What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a common eye disorder that causes
central vision loss. Your central vision is what you see when you’re looking
straight ahead. Your peripheral vision is what you see on the side when you’re
looking straight ahead. Macular degeneration doesn’t cause total blindness
because it doesn’t affect your peripheral vision.
It's estimated that more than 10 million
Americans have this disease. It’s also the number one cause of vision loss.
This cause of this disease is deterioration of the macula, which is a small
area in the center of the retina in the back of the eye.
Types of macular degeneration
The two types of macular degeneration are dry macular
degeneration and wet macular degeneration.
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form of this eye
condition, affecting about 85 to 90 percent of people who have the macular
degeneration. This form of the disease occurs due to small yellow deposits
called drusen developing under the macula. This causes retinal damage and
Wet macular degeneration affects about 10 to 15 percent of people with the condition. This
occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop under the retina and macula. If you
have this form of macular degeneration, you may see a dark spot in the center
of your vision due to blood vessels bleeding or leaking fluid.
Symptoms of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration is a progressive disease. This means
that it will get worse over time. You may not notice vision problems in the
early stages of the disease. You’re also less likely to notice vision changes
when it affects both eyes at the same time.
The symptoms of dry macular degeneration include the
- a distortion of straight lines in your field of
- a reduction in central vision
- the need for brighter lighting
- difficulty adapting to low lights
- trouble recognizing faces
Some symptoms of wet macular degeneration also resemble
those of dry macular degeneration, such as visual distortions and reduced
central vision. People with wet macular degeneration may also experience:
- a blurry spot in your field of vision
- hazy vision
- rapidly worsening symptoms
Wet and dry macular don’t affect peripheral vision. While
the disease can prevent you from seeing what’s directly in front of you, it doesn’t
cause complete blindness.
Causes of macular degeneration
It isn’t known why some people develop macular degeneration
while others don’t. However, certain factors can increase your risk of
developing the disease. These risk factors include:
- being over the age of 65
- being Caucasian
- having a family history of macular degeneration
- being overweight
- having cardiovascular disease
Diagnosing macular degeneration
It’s important to have annual eye exams even if your vision
appears normal. You should also tell your doctor about any vision changes you
experience. Your doctor can conduct a variety of tests to diagnose macular
degeneration. For example, your doctor can use special eye drops to dilate your
eyes and then check the back of your eyes for signs of fluid, blood, or yellow
During an eye exam, your doctor can also check your field of
central vision by asking you to look at a grid. If some of the lines on the
grid appear faded or broken, this can be a sign of macular degeneration. Other
tests include the following:
Your doctor injects a colored dye into a vein in your arm to
examine blood vessels in your eye. Then, they’ll use a special camera to take
pictures of your eye. They’ll examine these pictures to look for problems and
changes in your blood vessels and retina.
Indocyanine green angiography
Indocyanine green angiography is similar to fluorescein
angiography. Your doctor injects indocyanine green dye. They can use this test
to confirm the results of fluorescein angiography and to diagnose your type of
Optical coherence tomography
This involves taking cross-sectional images of the retina
and checking for swelling, thickening, or thinning. After you’re diagnosed with
macular degeneration, your doctor may also use this type of test to see how
your eyes respond to treatment.
Complications of macular degeneration
One of the complications of macular degeneration is being
unable to perform certain tasks on your own. As the disease progresses, it
becomes increasingly difficult to drive, read, or complete other activities. As
a result of vision loss, about 30 percent of people with macular degeneration
experience some form of anxiety or depression.
Speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing the symptoms
of anxiety or depression. Your doctor can suggest treatments to improve your
mental health, such as medication, counseling, or a support group for people
with vision impairments.
It’s common for people with macular degeneration to be
unable to drive a car. If your doctor diagnoses you with this condition, you
may have to complete a vision test periodically to ensure you’re capable of
operating a car.
Another complication is visual hallucinations. It's
estimated that 1 in 10 people with the disease experiences visual
hallucinations due to low vision stimulation. As your vision decreases, your
brain may compensate by creating false images or hallucinations. This isn’t a
symptom of a mental health problem. You should discuss your hallucinations with
your doctor or a support group. They can help you find ways to cope.
Treatment for macular degeneration
No cure is available for macular degeneration, but your
doctor can recommend options to slow the progression of the disease.
Treatment for dry macular degeneration
If you have dry macular degeneration, your doctor may
suggest that you work with a low vision rehabilitation specialist. The
specialist can teach you how to adjust and cope with vision loss.
Your doctor may also recommend surgery to help improve your
vision. During the surgery, they’ll implant a telescopic lens on your eye,
which magnifies your field of vision.
Treatment for wet macular degeneration
If you have wet macular degeneration, you’ll also benefit
from working with a low vision rehabilitation specialist. Also, your doctor may
administer a medication directly into your eye to stop the growth of new blood
vessels. It can take several weeks of treatment before you notice a difference.
Another treatment option is photodynamic therapy. Your
doctor injects a medication into a vein in one of your arms and then uses a
special laser to close up leaking blood vessels. This type of therapy can
improve your vision, but you may need multiple treatments.
Photocoagulation is another therapy for wet macular
degeneration. This involves the use of high-energy laser beams to destroy
abnormal blood vessels. The purpose of this therapy is to stop bleeding and
reduce further damage to your macula. However, the laser can cause scarring and
leave a blind spot on your eye. Even if this treatment is successful, abnormal
blood vessels can regrow, and you’ll have to return for another treatment.
Tips for prevention
Experts haven’t determined a way to prevent macular
degeneration. However, you can reduce your risk of the disease by maintaining a
healthy lifestyle. This includes:
- quitting smoking if you smoke
- eating a healthy diet
- maintaining a healthy weight
- getting plenty of exercise
degeneration isn’t preventable, but it’s possible to diagnose the condition
early with regular dilated eye exams. Early treatment can slow the progression
of the disease and minimize vision loss.