Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in caucasian’s over 65.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly and perform activities such as reading and driving. When the macula does not function correctly, your central vision can be affected by blurriness, dark areas or distortion. Macular degeneration affects your ability to see near and far and can make some activities–like threading a needle or reading–difficult or impossible.
What causes macular degeneration?
Many older people develop macular degeneration as a part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Exactly why is develops is not known.
The two most common types of AMD are “dry” (atrophic) and “wet” (exudative):
- “Dry” macular degeneration (atrophic) Most people have the “dry” form of AMD. It is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Vision loss is usually gradual.
- “Wet” macular degeneration (exudative) The “wet” form of macular degeneration accounts for about 10% of all AMD cases. Vision loss may be rapid and severe. Macular degeneration alone does not result in total blindness.
How is macular degeneration diagnosed?
Many people do not realize that they have a macular problem until blurred vision becomes obvious. Your ophthalmologist can detect early stages of AMD during a medical eye examination.
There is no proven medical therapy for dry macular degeneration. In selected cases of wet macular degeneration, laser photocoagulation is effective for sealing leaking or bleeding vessels. Unfortunately, laser photocoagulation usually does not restore lost vision, but it may prevent further loss.
Recently, photodynamic therapy has proven to be effective in stopping abnormal blood vessel growth in some patients with wet AMD. This new type of laser treatment is far less damaging than laser photocoagulation and is the treatment of choice in many cases.
Early diagnosis is critical for successful treatment of wet macular degeneration. Patients can help the doctor detect early changes by monitoring vision at home with an Amsler grid. (Available from your eye doctor.)