What is Macular Degeneration?

With the mass of the eyeball being composed of approximately 80% vitreous fluid, many people are surprised to find out just how complex the eye is and how many areas of it are susceptible to damage. The macula is one such area.

Simply put, macular degeneration occurs when the macula deteriorates. The macula is the central portion of the retina, which is itself the nerve tissue in the back of the eye that senses light. The deterioration of the macula often occurs as a person ages, leading to gradual vision loss in the center of vision. It is extremely rare for macular degeneration to lead to total blindness, but it can become disabling.

There are two forms of macular degeneration, dry and wet. Dry form macular degeneration is caused by yellow deposits, known as drusen, gathering in the macula. The presence of a few small drusen will likely not affect vision, but as more drusen accumulate and grow in the macula, vision may become dimmed or distorted in a way that is most often noticed when engaging in close up activities, such as reading. As this condition advances, a patient may develop a blind spot in the center of his/her vision. Wet form macular degeneration is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels underneath the macula. These blood vessels leak blood and other fluids into the retina, causing distortion of vision. This may ultimately cause scarring, leading to a permanent blind spot in the center of one’s vision. Dry form macular degeneration is more common, and may sometimes be the cause of wet form macular degeneration. Regardless of the cause, only about 10% of macular degeneration patients experience wet form.

Macular degeneration, in either variety, is often associated with aging. However, there are additional risk factors that may contribute to one’s likelihood of developing the condition. Heredity may contribute, as may smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, being light-skinned, being female, and having pale-colored eyes.

Regular visits to your eye doctor can help detect changes in the macula, allowing for treatment to occur and prevent the progression of this condition.


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