Macular degeneration usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field 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 thinner than a dime, the retina is essential to vision. Like the film in a camera, it receives images and transmits them to the back of the brain. The macula is a small area of cells within the retina that are extremely sensitive and are responsible for our finely detailed central vision.
The macula can deteriorate as part of the body’s aging process. This deterioration affects only a person’s fine, or central vision; peripheral vision remains unaffected. For example, a person with advanced 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, 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 develop slowly. No treatment can reverse this type of degeneration, but specific vitamin, mineral, carotenoid and essential fatty acid supplementation has been shown to reduce progression by 30%.
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 central retina. If the wet form is caught early enough, various forms of treatment by a retinal specialist can improve and stabilize vision.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration occurs as part of the aging process in some people. 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. Macular degeneration has a strong heredity and lifestyle component to risk. A history of smoking and one or more specific, small genetic changes account for up to 70% of a person’s risk of the wet form 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, the straight lines such as 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 cure for the dry form of macular degeneration. Nutritional supplements may slow the deterioration by 30%. If the wet form occurs, injection of advanced medication may prevent major vision loss or improve or stabilize vision in many cases. When vision is significantly decreased, special visual aids and magnifiers may be helpful.
Despite advanced medical treatment, people with macular degeneration still experience vision loss. The doctors at Eye Clinic of Austin can help select optical and non-optical devices to aid in daily activities. While the vision loss cannot be reversed, we work to help people maintain their quality of life. Call us today at 512.427.1100 to schedule an appointment.