AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION
WHAT IS MACULAR DEGENERATION?
There is a thin layer of tissue which lines the inside of the eye called the retina. This is a very important part of the eye. There are a lot of capillaries for nutrient and oxygen supply and many nerves which eventually form the optic nerve. This is also the part of the eye with rods (which help night vision) and cones (helping with color vision and detail).
Along the retina tissue there is a small area with an indentation which is called the macula. The macula is only 5.5 mm across and is the point in the retina that provides you with central vision (as opposed to peripheral vision).
Central vision is important because it is how you see detail from what you look directly at. People who have complete damage to their macula may suffer from a blind spot directly ahead but can still benefit from peripheral vision.
WHAT IT CAN BE LIKE IF YOU GET MACULAR DEGENERATION
If you are at your computer, try this exercise:
Close one eye.
With the other eye look at the photo at the top of this web page.
Now hold up your thumb 4-6 inches from your open eye so that it blocks your view of the photo.
Notice while doing this, you cannot see the photo but can still see the rest of your screen using your peripheral vision.
Try looking around the room but keep your thumb 4-6 inches from your eye and keep it directly in line with the object you are attempting to view.
This is what it's like to have damage to the macula. There's a blurry, or a blind spot directly ahead.
CAUSES OF MACULAR DEGENERATION
Damage to the macula in this eye condition is progressive and can often go unnoticed in its early stages. Your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist will generally use a slit lamp to view this part of the eye directly during a dilated eye exam.
In the early phase of the disease, your eye doctor might observe macular drusen which are small white/yellow clumps that build up in this region. Having drusen is a sign that your eye is having trouble eliminating waste products from the rods and cones.
Having drusen increases the risk of Macular Degeneration.
Once the drusen gets worse, it can cause small detachments in some of the pigment layers creating holes and spaces in where fluid can seep in.
The presence of the fluid indicates you have "wet" type (Exudative Macular Degeneration).
There are a few known risk factors for this disease including:
Race: The highest rates occur in Caucasians
Smoking: Smokers are 2 to 3 times more likely to get Macular Degeneration
Presence of other family members with the disease
TREATMENT OF MACULAR DEGENERATION
In the early stages, vitamins can help prevent the disease from worsening but once the problem advances to the 'Wet' stage, we would have to refer you to a retinal specialist for Anti VEGF injections to stop the fluid from building up.
If this disease progresses to the final stage, then you will note a fairly large, bothersome blind spot straight ahead, while your peripheral vision remains intact.
People with advance vision loss could benefit from specialty lenses with a low vision specialist but reading and recognizing facial expressions will still be very difficult.