What Is Macular Degeneration?

As we age, our vision will change. In many cases, these changes are nothing to be concerned about. However, in some cases, changes in vision are an indicator of an underlying and potentially dangerous eye condition.

Macular degeneration is one common cause of vision changes and vision loss, especially in adults over 60. In fact, it is the leading cause of vision loss in people 60 and over.

What is macular degeneration?

The macula is the central part of the retina and is responsible for sharp central vision. Degeneration of the macula can result in blurred vision or loss in central vision and can affect the ability to read, drive and see clearly. With macular degeneration, total blindness rarely occurs as side vision is unaffected, but ability to see straight ahead can be lost.

Macular degeneration is typically a hereditary disease, though smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity and fair skin are also risk factors for the disease. Women are more likely than men to develop it.

Symptoms of the disease include dark, blurry spots in the center of vision; distorted center of vision; diminished or changed color perception and straight lines appearing wavy.

The two types of macular degeneration

Treatment for macular degeneration depends on the type of degeneration, and ranges from nutritional supplements to laser treatment. There are two main categories of age-related macular degeneration: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration.

Dry Macular Degeneration

The more common of the two types of macular degeneration, this form is characterized by the presence of yellow deposits, called drusen, in the macula. Drusen is thought to be debris from the deteriorating macular tissue. As drusen grow in size and number, they can cause dimming or distortion of vision, most noticeable when reading. As the condition progresses, atrophy or tissue death may occur in the light-sensitive layer of cells in the macula, causing some patients to experience blind spots in the center of their vision. In more advanced stages of the disease, central vision may be lost altogether.

Wet Macular Degeneration

This form of macular degeneration accounts for only about 10 percent of cases, but it’s responsible for the majority of serious vision loss from macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration is characterized by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These abnormal blood vessels can leak blood and fluid into the retina, causing distortion of vision. They may also lead to scarring, which can result in permanent loss of central vision.

Is there treatment?

Patients diagnosed with either form of macular degeneration should closely monitor their vision and see their eye doctor regularly. Adding more green, leafy vegetables, vitamins and supplements to their diets is also recommended.

Treatment for wet macular degeneration may include an injection such as Avastin to block the development of new blood vessels and stop the leaking from existing abnormal blood vessels. Laser therapy or submacular surgery may be performed to remove abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula.

Early and timely treatment is critical in preventing vision loss. If you are over 60 and have not had a routine comprehensive eye exam in the past year, contact Key-Whitman and schedule your exam today.