What is macular degeneration?

Vision loss is a widespread health problem that affects millions of people around the world. The number one cause of vision loss is a condition called macular degeneration. An estimated 10 million people in the United States suffer from the disease.

The back of the human eye is covered by a layer of tissue called the retina; it collects visual images and sends this information to the brain via the optic nerves. The center of the retina–and the part that processes the center of a person’s visual field—is known as the macula. The macula is necessary for several visual tasks including reading, driving, and seeing fine detail.

As the name implies, macular degeneration involves the deterioration of the macula. As the disease progresses, this deterioration can lead to blurred vision or complete central vision loss, causing “blind spots.” In the most advanced stages of the disease, a person may be considered legally blind.

Typically, a person’s peripheral vision is retained in macular degeneration, since the rest of the retinal surface remains intact, although a person’s peripheral vision generally does not provide as much clarity as intact central vision.

What are the types of macular degeneration? And what is the cause?

Two main types of macular degeneration exist, known respectively as wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. Both types are related to advancing age. A third type, known as Stargardt disease, is caused by a recessive gene and is found in younger people.

The majority of people who develop macular degeneration are suffering from the dry, or “atrophic” type of the disease. In this type, vision loss and damage to the retina is due to the growth of small yellow deposits beneath the macula, which over time will call the macula to degenerate.

Wet, or “exudative” macular degeneration is less common, however tends to progress more quickly than dry. This type is characterized by the growth of new blood vessels behind the retina. The blood vessels are weak and tend to leak fluids, leading to disruption of the retinal cells and scar tissue on the retinal surface, including the macula.

The cause of macular degeneration is not definitively known, but scientists and optometrists agree that it is likely caused by a combination environmental and hereditary factors. Specific risk factors may include advancing age, smoking, obesity, light-colored irises, female gender, and long-term sun exposure.

What treatments options are available for macular degeneration?

While not curable, macular degeneration is manageable. Comprehensive treatment involves nutrition counseling for dry type and a combination of laser and medication therapy for wet type.

At De Anza Vision Center, we work with many patients dealing with vision loss caused by macular degeneration. We are committed to providing excellent care in a friendly environment, to help put all our patients and their loved ones at ease.

If you or someone you know is suffering from macular degeneration, call us at De Anza Vision Center today to find out how we can help.