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Macular Degeneration: What You Should Know

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a breakdown of the small central portion of the retina at the back of the eye called the macula. This part of the eye helps us see fine details and gives us our central (as opposed to peripheral) vision. The degree of visual loss in macular degeneration ranges from minimal to severe.

Are there different kinds of macular degeneration?

Yes. There are two types:

  • Dry macular degeneration is the most common. Visual loss is gradual due to progressive thinning of the retinal tissue and can vary from mild to severe.

  • Wet macular degeneration accounts for about 10% of cases. In this form of the disease, the visual loss is typically more severe and sudden. These symptoms are usually due to leakage of blood or fluid from abnormal new blood vessels that have formed in the retina.

What are the risk factors for macular degeneration?

While the exact cause of macular degeneration is not known, there are a number of risk factors that have been identified.

  • Age

  • Family history

  • Smoking

  • Deposits in the eye called drusen

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Light colored eyes and skin

  • Exposure to ultraviolet light

  • High degree of myopia (nearsightedness).

What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

Symptoms of macular degeneration vary depending on the severity of the disease. They can range from mild blur despite wearing the right prescription lenses to actual distortion (i.e waviness of straight lines). In more severe cases, there can be a blind spot in the center of the field of vision.

How is macular degeneration diagnosed?

The macula can be evaluated in a number of different ways.

  • Direct visualization with special lenses during a dilated eye exam.

  • Functional test called an Amsler grid that checks for distortion of straight lines.

Special office based imaging tests including an optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescein angiograms are often used as well.

How is macular degeneration treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for macular degeneration. However, there are treatments to help limit progression of the disease and reduce the degree of visual loss. Your doctor will discuss your treatment plan and answer any of your questions.

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