Macular Degeneration - What is Macular Degeneration?

We have many types of vision. Some parts of our eyes help us see things to the right and left, others help with distinguishing colors and seeing at night. The macula is the part of the eye which affects our ability to read and to see fine detail.

Macular Degeneration is a disease characterized by the blind spot in the central vision. People with Macular Degeneration find it difficult or impossible to read, recognize faces, see clearly at long distances or distinguish different colors. Some forms of Macular Degeneration are hereditary and can affect people of all ages. Other types are caused by disease or injury. The most common form of the disease is part of the aging process and usually affects both eyes. Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of severe visual loss among prople age 65 and older.

Why is the macula so important?

The nerve tissue that lines the inside of the eye is called the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that senses light and then relays a signal to your brain where seeing actually takes place. In the middle of the retina, directly behind the pupil of the eye, is a circular area about one-fifth of an inch across. This is called the macula. The macula is the part of the retina which is responsible for sharp, central vision.

What happens in macular degeneration?

In Macular Degeneration, the macula loses its ability to function efficiently. One form of the disease involves the breakdown of the thin layer which separates the macula from underlying blood vessels. New, abnormal blood vessels grow and bleed or leak fluid into the macula. Visual cells in the affected area sicken and die.

What can be done?

Any person who experiences a loss of central vision or begins to see straight lines as wavy or crooked should contact their ophthalmologist/Eye M.D. immediately.

Between eye examinations, people with early signs of Macular Degeneration may be advised to use an Amsler Grid supplied by their ophthalmologist/Eye M.D. to check their eyes at home. This is a grid of crossed lines. If a person's macula is normal, the lines appear straight. If new blood vessels are growing and leaking fluid into the macula, some of the lines may appear curved, wavy, or may not be visible at all.

Patients who use the grid should look at it regularly and contact their ophthalmologist/Eye M.D. immediately if they notice any changes in its appearance.

If Macular Degeneration is caused by abnormal vessels leaking into the macula, the condition may be treated with laser therapy. The laser is an intense ray of light which is focused on a tiny spot on the retina. The light produces heat which is used to seal off the troublesome vessels. This can prevent further leakage and tissue destruction. Laser theraphy is often performed in the ophthalmologist/Eye M.D.'s office.

People affected by Macular Degeneration also may find optical devices, sometimes called low vision aids helpful. Your eye care specialist can tell you more about the types of devices available.