Macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans. It is the leading cause of vision loss. This incurable eye disease is caused by deterioration of the retina in a portion of the eye called the macula. The macula focuses images and creates the very central part of what we see. Without clear vision from the macula, we are unable to read, drive, distinguish color, see fine detail, or recognize faces.
It’s very important that you schedule your regular eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Your comprehensive eye exam will give the doctor an opportunity to evaluate your eyes for macular degeneration and other eye health conditions. Seeing a qualified eye doctor for a full eye exam is the best way to ensure your continued eye health.
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Age-related Macular Degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration, often referred to as AMD, is a medical condition that usually affects older adults. This vision-stealing disease is the result of degeneration to the macula. It results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field because of the damage to the retina. It occurs in dry and wet forms and is a major cause of blindness and visual impairments in adults over the age of fifty.
Types of Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. The dry form of advanced AMD results from atrophy of the retinal pigment epithelial layer below the retina. This causes vision loss due to the damage of photoreceptors also known as rods and cones in the central part of the eye.
The wet form of advanced AMD causes vision loss due to abnormal blood vessel growth. This ultimately leads to blood and protein leakage below the macula. Bleeding, leaking and scarring from these blood vessels eventually causes irreversible damage to the photoreceptors and rapid vision loss if left untreated. Fortunately, only about 10% of patients suffering from macular degeneration have the “wet” type.
Macular degeneration is not painful which may allow it to go unnoticed for some time. For this reason, regular eye examinations are important. While approximately 10% of patients age 66 to 74 will have findings of macular degeneration, the prevalence increases to 30% for patients age 75 to 85 years of age. Family history may also play a factor. The good news is that regular eye exams, early detection, and new treatment options enable doctors to maintain—and in some cases increase—visual acuity in patients.