Macular Degeneration Explained

Eye Health, Featured Article, Healthy Aging, Vision Problems
on August 19, 2011
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Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the result of damage to the macula, which is the tissue on the back of the retina that is sensitive to light. Think of the macula as part of a power converter — only, in this case, it’s changing light into electrical impulses. These impulses are then sent through the optic nerve to the brain. Without the macula, the brain would be unable to interpret the light images that constantly come through the eye’s lens.

What causes macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is caused by a number of different factors, including intraocular pressure and bleeding inside the eye. These may be the result of glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, injury, illness or other similar factors. It is almost always age-related, as tissues become more susceptible to damage over time.

Macular degeneration symptoms. There are two types of macular degeneration, each with its own set of symptoms. The first type is wet macular degeneration, which is generally the most serious within the shortest amount of time. The National Eye Institute (NEI) explains, “With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly. … It does not have stages like dry AMD.” This type of macular degeneration often starts with distortions in vision — namely, straight lines tend to appear wavy. Dry macular degeneration occurs when the macular cells deteriorate over time, and it is characterized by yellow spots below the retina, with blurring of central vision. Both types of macular degeneration may eventually lead to complete vision loss in one or both eyes.

Treatments for macular degeneration. While macular degeneration has no cure, several types of treatment may be successful in delaying the more severe symptoms. Depending on the type and severity of the disease, treatment may include drug therapy — usually drugs injected directly into the eye — laser surgery or photodynamic surgery. Not all cases of macular degeneration result in total vision loss, however. Some people may only notice a slight blurring of their vision, and more severe symptoms can be delayed with treatment for the duration of their lives.