Macular degeneration: What Is It?

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of sight loss in people aged 60 years and older.

The macula is a small area at the centre of the retina, the area at the back of the eye that converts light into images. This area is responsible for seeing fine details, for example when reading or recognising people's faces.

Macular degeneration (also known as maculopathy) is when the cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. People with macular degeneration have blurry or distorted central vision, and sometimes see shapes and colours that are not there. Peripheral vision (vision at the outer edges of the eye) is not affected, and it does not result in complete blindness.

There are two types of macular degeneration. In 90 percent of people with macular degeneration the cells of their macula slowly stop working, due to wear and tear. It usually develops slowly, affects both eyes equally and is known as "dry" macular degeneration. In the other 10 percent of people with macular degeneration, the disease develops when small blood vessels behind the eye bleed, causing build up of fluid and scarring. This form of the disease can progress quickly, leading to severe and rapid loss of vision. It tends to affect one eye first, although the other is often affected later. This form is known as "wet" or neovascular macular degeneration.

People are more at risk of developing age-related macular degeneration if they smoke, have high blood pressure or have close relatives with the condition.

Unfortunately, there are no cures for the dry form of age-related macular degeneration currently available. However, there are lots of ways to make the best of the remaining peripheral vision.

The wet form of macular degeneration can be treated by laser if it is detected at an early stage. Laser treatment may prevent vision from getting worse, slow down the progression of the condition and sometimes bring back sight that has already been lost.

Because there are no effective treatments for late-stage age-related macular degeneration, prevention is important. For more information contact:

Macular Degeneration Foundation (MDF)
P.O. Box 531313
Henderson, NV 89053
Toll Free: 888-633-3937
Phone: 408-260-1335
Web: http://www.eyesight.org

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