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Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration is damage or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area (about the size of this letter “O”) at the back of the eye the allows us to see fine details clearly. When the macula doesn”t function well, we experience blurriness or darkness in the center of our vision. Macular degeneration affects both distance and close vision and can make reading difficult or impossible.

Although macular degeneration affects the central vision, it does not affect the side, or peripheral, vision. For example, you could see the outline of the clock but not be able to tell the time. Macular degeneration does not result in total blindness, even with severe damage people have useful peripheral vision and are able to take care of themselves.

Questions about Macular Degeneration

Q:What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is damage or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area (about the size of this letter “O”) at the back of the eye the allows us to see fine details clearly. When the macula doesn”t function well, we experience blurriness or darkness in the center of our vision. Macular degeneration affects both distance and close vision and can make reading difficult or impossible.

Although macular degeneration affects the central vision, it does not affect the side, or peripheral, vision. For example, you could see the outline of the clock but not be able to tell the time. Macular degeneration does not result in total blindness, even with severe damage people have useful peripheral vision and are able to take care of themselves.

Q:What causes macular degeneration?

Many people develop macular degeneration as part of the aging process. The two most common types of this “age-related” macular degeneration are “dry” (atrophic) and “wet” (exudative).
“Dry” (atrophic) macular degeneration is the most common. It is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Vision loss is usually gradual.
“Wet” (exudative) macular degeneration accounts for about 10% of all cases. It results from abnormal blood vessels that grow up through thinned and weakened macular tissue. These vessels leak fluid and blood and blur central vision. Vision loss may be rapid and severe.

Q:What are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration can cause different symptoms in different people. The condition may be hardly noticeable in its early stages. Sometimes only one eye loses vision while the other eye continues to see well for many years.
Some common ways that vision loss is detected are:

  • Words on a page look blurry
  • A dark or empty area appears in the center of vision
  • Straight lines look distorted
Q:How is Macular Degeneration Diagnosed?

Many people do not realize that they have a problem until blurred vision becomes obvious. Your ophthalmologist can detect early stages of macular degeneration during a medical eye examination. Sometimes special photographs, called angiograms, are done to find abnormal blood vessels under the retina.

Q:How is macular degeneration treated?

Despite much effort into medical research, there is still no cure for “dry” macular degeneration. Many doctors believe that nutritional supplements with zinc, beta-carotenes or lutein may slow macular degeneration, although this hasn”t been absolutely proven.
In its early stages, “wet” macular degeneration can be treated with laser surgery, using a focused beam of light to seal the leaking blood vessels that damage the macula. Traditional laser surgery will leave a permanent “blind spot” in the area treated, however a new technique is now available that in some cases can preserve much more of the vision while still sealing the blood vessels.
Despite advanced medical treatment, many people will still suffer some visual loss with macular degeneration. Your eye doctor can prescribe optical devices or refer you to a low-vision specialist, like us at the North Dallas Eye Associates. A wide range of devices and aids are available that use the vision that is present to accomplish many daily tasks that wouldn”t be possible without them.