Macular degeneration is an age-related disease that can result in permanent central vision loss. The retina is a multilayered thin tissue inside the eye which absorbs light and gives us sight and the macula is the part of the retina that gives us our 20/20 vision. Damage to the macula causes loss of fine detail and blurred vision in our central line of sight. Peripheral vision is usually unaffected. Vision loss from macular degeneration varies. It can cause blindness in some, while others may only have mild vision changes.
There are two types of age-related macular degeneration (AMD): dry AMD and wet AMD. The dry form is the most common. It is characterized by thinning and atrophy of the macula and/or the accumulation of deposits called drusen. There is currently no cure for dry macular degeneration. However, studies have shown taking specific vitamins made for dry AMD can slow the progression of the disease. Wet AMD is when there is abnormal blood vessel growth in the macula. When new blood vessels grow, they are leaky and this causes fluid to build up in the retina resulting in vision changes. Wet macular degeneration can be treated by injecting medication into the eye to reduce blood vessel growth. For those with wet AMD, the injections may not only help slow the progression, but in some cases might improve vision.
Damage to the macula is more likely to happen as we age, which is why macular degeneration is more common in older adults. The risk is higher for those who have a family history of macular degeneration and in people who smoke. The retina does not sense pain, so you cannot feel macular degeneration. In early stages, your doctor can see changes during your exam even if vision is unaffected. Diagnosing macular degeneration early is key to slowing its progression and preventing vision loss.
Written by: Dr. Giannonatti, optometrist since 2019