What is a Macular Degeneration?
The macula is the small, central part of the retina providing our vision of fine details.
Degeneration of the macula with age is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in those over 60. Symptoms include dark blurry areas in your central vision or changes in how you see colors.
Regular complete eye exams are key to early diagnosis. The doctor can find signs in the retina that make the diagnosis, and may also use the OCT (an imaging test) to give a 3-D view of the retina for more information.
Treatment may involve injections of medication to decrease abnormal blood vessel growth near the macula, laser treatments of the retina, or a combination of the two.
Our board certified retinal specialists are experts in treating macular degeneration (AMD) to slow its progression and spare your important central vision.
Stages of Macular Degeneration
AMD has three major stages, characterized by the size and number of drusen, yellow deposits beneath the retina that can be seen only during an eye exam. Some people have one eye with a later stage of AMD than the other. The stages are:
- Early AMD: This stage involves medium-sized drusen, which are about the width of a human hair. Vision loss usually has not yet occurred.
- Intermediate AMD: People at this stage usually have large drusen, pigment changes in the retina, or both. Intermediate AMD can cause some vision loss, but most people do not experience any symptoms.
- Late AMD: People with late AMD have drusen and vision loss from damage to the macula. The two types of late AMD are:
– Geographic atrophy (also called dry AMD), in which the light-sensitive cells in the macula that transmit images to the brain begin to gradually deteriorate, along with the supporting tissue under the macula. These changes cause vision loss.
– Neovascular AMD (also called wet AMD), in which abnormal blood vessels grow behind the macula and retina. These vessels can leak fluid and blood, which can lead to swelling and damage that can be rapid and severe, causing more vision loss than dry AMD. It is possible to have both dry and wet AMD in the same eye, and either condition can appear first.
Causes of Macular Degeneration
AMD results from damage to the blood vessels that nourish the macula. The exact causes of this damage are not well understood, but certain risk factors can increase a person’s chances of developing AMD:
- Family history of AMD
- Caucasian ancestry
- Poor nutrition
- Genetic factors
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
Many people with AMD don’t experience symptoms in the early and intermediate stages. Patients who experience any of the following symptoms should see an eye specialist as soon as possible:
- Fuzzy or blurry vision
- Distorted vision, such as straight lines that appear wavy or colors that seem muddy or faded
- Dark or empty area in the center of vision
- Difficulty reading or doing other close activities
- Difficulty recognizing faces at a distance
Frequently Asked Questions
Macular degeneration usually affects people over age 65, which is why the term age-related macular degeneration (AMD) often is used to describe the condition. However, certain drugs can cause macular degeneration, and some cases are inherited, such as Stargardt’s disease, which can affect children and young adults.
No, but treatment can slow or even stop the progression of the wet form, so the earlier you’re diagnosed, the better.
Doctors aren’t sure how to prevent macular degeneration. Research suggests that ultraviolet light (and possibly blue light) factors into the problem, so sunglasses that block these solar rays might have a protective effect.
What you eat also affects your macula. Researchers think that antioxidants (vitamins A, C and E), zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and essential fatty acids all can aid in preventing macular degeneration.
Exercising and quitting smoking also might reduce your risk of AMD.