Macular degeneration is a medical condition which usually affects older adults resulting in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina.
The retina is the delicate, cup-shaped lining at the back of the eye. About the size of a postage stamp and the thickness of a dime, the retina is essential to vision. Like the film in a camera, it receives images and transmits them to the brain. Within the retina is a small area of cells that are extremely sensitive. This area of the retina, called the macula, is responsible for our finest, central vision.
The macula can deteriorate as part of the body’s natural aging process. This deterioration affects a person’s fine, or central, vision; peripheral vision remains unaffected. For example, a person with macular degeneration can see the outline of a clock but cannot tell what time it is. Because macular degeneration does not result in total blindness, such patients can usually remain self-sufficient.
Types of Macular Degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration: “dry” and “wet.” In dry macular degeneration, the most common form, the deterioration of the macula leads to thinning of the macular tissue and progressive loss of vision. Dry macular degeneration tends to be slow. Unfortunately, no treatment is available for this type of degeneration.
Wet, or exudative, macular degeneration accounts for about 10% of all cases of the condition. The wet form occurs when abnormal blood vessels form in the deteriorating macula. These abnormal vessels leak fluid or blood and cause a dramatic loss of central vision. If the wet form is caught early enough, laser treatment can sometimes halt these vessels’ bleeding.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
The cause of macular degeneration is unknown. It occurs as part of the aging process in some people, although sometimes a “juvenile” form of the condition develops in young patients. Macular degeneration can run in families and has been linked to smoking. It tends to be more common in women, fair-skinned people, and in people with light-colored eyes. The absence of these risk factors, however, does not rule out the possibility of macular degeneration.
What Are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?
The symptoms of macular degeneration vary. In its early stages, degeneration may be hardly noticeable. Sometimes the condition affects only one eye, but when both eyes are affected, the symptoms are noticed as a disturbance in central or fine vision. Words on a page may become blurred, straight lines, the vertical edges of door frames may become crooked, and dark or empty areas may appear in the center of one’s vision.
How Is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?
A complete eye exam by an ophthalmologist is needed to diagnose macular degeneration. Simple, in-office, tests while the pupils are dilated will allow your doctor to determine whether you suffer from macular degeneration.
How Is Macular Degeneration Treated?
Despite ongoing medical research, there is no treatment or cure for the dry form of macular degeneration. Some doctors believe that nutritional supplements may slow the deterioration, but this theory has not yet been proven. Treatment now focuses on helping people find ways to cope with the visual impairment.
The wet form of degeneration can be treated with lasers if caught early. Laser treatment will not bring the vision back to normal, but can prevent the total loss of central vision.
Despite advanced medical treatment, people with macular degeneration still experience vision loss. The doctors at Lipstock LASIK and Cataract Center can help select optical and non-optical devices to aid in daily activities. While the vision loss cannot be reversed, we strive to help people maintain their quality of life.