Macular degeneration is a condition that affects the macula – the tiny, central part of the retina at the back of the eye.
The macula is the part of your eye responsible for your central, colour and detailed vision. Central vision is used during activities such as reading or watching television, for example.
Age-related macular degeneration also known as AMD, is the deterioration of the centre of the retina called the macula.
The macula is the part of the retina which is responsible for our central vision, and our ability to see color and fine detail when looking directly at an object. Age related macular degeneration or AMD is the most common cause of vision loss in people over the age of 55.
In the early stages of AMD there is little or no vision loss. As the disease advances, images can become blurred or distorted, or a dark or empty area can appear in the centre of the vision.
AMD does not cause total blindness, because side vision is not affected. There is some good news related to macular degeneration. With regular check-ups, early diagnosis and new treatment options, doctors are now able to maintain visual acuity in most patients and improve vision in a significant number of patients suffering from this condition.
Macular degeneration symptoms
Macular degeneration can affect one or both eyes and typically causes problems with your central vision. You may notice that reading and close work become difficult and there may be blank areas or a grey/black spot in the centre of your vision. Colours can also appear less vibrant and it can become difficult to read people’s faces.
Macular degeneration symptoms are quite similar to those of a macular hole, but an eye specialist will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis.
Macular degeneration does not affect the peripheral vision (side vision), which means it will not cause complete blindness.
Causes of macular degeneration
Macular degeneration is generally caused by ageing, and usually affects people aged 60 and over. As we age, areas of the central retina (the macula) can gradually become thin and stop working, causing blank spots in your central vision.
There is also evidence to suggest that smoking, obesity and high blood pressure can increase the risk of developing AMD.
There are two main types of macular degeneration:-
Dry AMD is the most common form of macular degeneration, and affects around 85 to 90 percent of people with AMD. Vision loss is usually gradual, and rarely severe.
This form of the disease affects up to 90 percent of AMD patients. In the early stages of dry AMD, tiny deposits called drusen, start appearing within the retina. These drusen may be so insignificant, that the patient has few, if any, outward symptoms, and no vision loss.
As dry AMD progresses, more disruptive drusen begin to appear. As the size and number of drusen increases, patients may begin to notice a small dark spot in their central vision, causing them problems while reading, or driving at night.
Drusen alone are not proof of macular degeneration, but they are an important warning sign. It is critical for patients to understand that as dry AMD progresses it can turn into the more severe form called wet AMD.
Wet AMD is the more aggressive form of macular degeneration and can lead to rapid and severe vision loss. However, it only occurs in ten to 15 percent of AMD sufferers.
In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the macula. These can leak fluid and blood, causing permanent damage to the retina.
These abnormal blood vessels are unusually delicate, and may bleed or leak fluid. This fluid builds up beneath the retina, causing it to bulge or lift up from the back of the eye. The eye is damaged as a result, causing central vision to appear blurred, wavy, or distorted. Wet AMD can progress rapidly, leading to severe vision problems in the affected eye, and causing permanent vision loss.
Early diagnosis of wet AMD is critical. If caught early, treatment options exist which may delay or reduce damage to the eye, and decrease the severity of vision loss.
Macular degeneration treatments
Many people do not realise they are suffering from macular degeneration until the symptoms become obvious. Early detection and treatment can help slow down and even stop macular degeneration.
If you notice problems with your vision, such as blurring or specifically distortion of straight lines appearing curved or kinked, you should make an appointment with an eye specialist as soon as possible. If your vision suddenly becomes worse or you notice blind spots in your field of vision, seek advice immediately.
The best ways you can reduce your risk of getting AMD, or your AMD becoming worse are:
- stop smoking if you are a smoker
- moderate your consumption of alcohol
- eat a healthy diet high with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- try to achieve or maintain a healthy weight
- consider taking vitamin and mineral supplementation.