Macular degeneration is an eye disease that involves the deterioration of the macula, which is the small central area of the retina that controls visual acuity. A healthy macula enables a person to read, recognize faces, drive, use a computer, and to perform any other visual task that requires seeing fine detail. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans. Risk increases with age.
There are two types of macular degeneration:
dry (more common)
wet (more severe)
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration may result from the aging and thinning of macular tissues and/or depositing of pigment in the macula. A common sign noted on retinal exam is the accumulation of drusen in and around the macula. Drusen are yellowish spots that are deposits or debris from deteriorating tissue. As drusen gradually increase, they become geographic atrophy in the late stage which can cause severe central vision loss.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage causes permanent damage to retinal cells and create blind spots in central vision.
Common risk factors for developing macular degeneration include aging, heredity, smoking, UV radiation, hypertension, diabetes, lighter eye color, and side effects from toxic drugs such as chloroquine and phenothiazine.
Currently, there is no prevention or cure for macular degeneration but some treatments may delay progression or even improve vision. Studies have suggested that a healthy diet with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids may help. Also, nutritional supplements containing lutein and zeaxanthin increase the density of macular pigments which protect the eyes from macular degeneration.
For wet macular degeneration, there are FDA-approved drugs that are regularly administered by an ophthalmologist in order to prevent leakage in the retina. In later stages of this disease, a low vision specialist can provide specialty optical devices to help with mobility and specific visual tasks.