Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is a deterioration of the macula, the part of your eye that gives you your sharp, central vision. The macula is a specialized part of your retina, lining the inside of the back of your eye, so these changes can only be seen by your eye specialist when examining the inside of the eye. Macular degeneration generally occurs as part of the natural aging process. When the macula degenerates, your vision can be affected by blurriness, dark areas, or distortion. This can become bad enough that everyday activities such as reading, driving or watching TV can be difficult or impossible. Often both eyes are affected, although the changes can vary greatly between the eyes.

Although macular degeneration reduces the central part of your vision, it does not affect your peripheral (side) vision, so it does not cause total blindness, and very often remains mild, causing only minor inconvenience for you.

The two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are the ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ types. Dry AMD is the most common, and causes a gradual loss of sharpness of vision that can take years to develop.

Wet AMD results from growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina, inside your eye. These blood vessels can leak fluid or blood, which causes distorted and blurred vision. These changes can take place rapidly.

Ask the Doctor

Q: How do I know if I have AMD?

A: If your vision becomes blurred or distorted, you may have AMD. However, other things such as cataracts or dry eye can cause blurring, and the only way to be sure what is causing it is to see your eye specialist. A sudden onset of distortion in vision, such as if straight lines appear to be wavy, is a particularly troublesome sign, and should be checked out right away by your eye specialist.

Q: What causes AMD?

A: No one knows for sure what causes AMD. It is more common the older we are, and smoking cigarettes is a risk factor.

Q: Can it be treated?

A: We know that taking certain amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene, and zinc may slow down the development of AMD. These vitamins will not reverse AMD if you have already lost vision, but may help keep it from getting worse. In fact, the AREDS study showed that high doses of anti-oxidants and vitamins reduced the progression of macular degeneration in those already diagnosed with macular degeneration. Your eye specialist can recommend a vitamin preparation for you.

Certain types of wet AMD can be treated with laser surgery, or with injections that reverse the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina.

Early detection and treatment may help prevent serious loss of vision.