Age-related macular degeneration is a chronic and progressive eye condition. Usually, macular degeneration affects the elderly population and has a predisposition for Caucasian and Asian races. As macular degeneration progresses, it damages the central portion of the retina, the macula, and it results in loss of vision in the center of the visual field.
This loss is initially distortion or waviness in the vision but it can progress to complete loss and blackness in the center of the field. This greatly impacts tasks such as reading, driving, and recognizing faces which rely on the ability to focus on the central vision.
What is the Macula?
The macula is a region of the retina that is responsible for central vision, fine detail perception, and color vision.
This area has the densest concentration of cone photoreceptors of any part of the retina.
When the eyes are focused on an object, the macula of each eye is directed to the target and should be aligned.
At the macula, there is an extra layer of pigment to help protect the photoreceptors from damage due to ultraviolet lights.
Who is Affected by Macular Degeneration?
In most individuals, macular degeneration is developed slowly and begins to present signs and symptoms in the sixties or seventies.
While it is possible to develop early changes to the macula, it is uncommon to have any symptoms present before this age.
In general, the races most likely to be impacted by macular degeneration are Caucasian and Asian. The condition is much higher in prevalence among these races than any others.
Women have also been shown to be at a higher risk than men, although both genders are susceptible to developing macular degeneration.
How Does Macular Degeneration Affect Vision?
Macular degeneration causes damage to the macula through exposure to ultraviolet light and oxidative stress such as that caused by a high-fat diet.
When the macula is damaged, areas begin to atrophy – or die – and leave an opening in the retina where the tissue was lost.
As photoreceptors are impacted, the vision may become distorted, wavy, grayed out, or even black.
Since the macula is responsible for the central vision, these changes are typically noticed quickly due to the impact on daily life and activities.
Symptoms may include not being able to read or see faces well, double vision, objects that appear to move when trying to focus, or losing focus quickly when trying to look at an object.
Treatments for Macular Degeneration
There are no curative treatments available for macular degeneration. Currently, the best treatments include using preventative measures like AREDS vitamins and sunglasses and then monitoring for progression.
If macular degeneration progresses into a wet, or hemorrhagic, stage, there are intraocular injections that can be used to help resolve the leaking of blood and prevent additional blood vessel growth.
Any vision loss from macular degeneration is usually permanent and unable to be recovered.
Low vision aids such as magnifiers, telescopes, and text-to-voice software can be used to help ease daily activities which are impacted by macular degeneration.