An Introduction to Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, painless loss of central vision. It can affect one’s ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces.
Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, there are treatment options that can slow down its progression. This depends on the stage and type of the disease (wet, dry, and other forms). The earlier the disease is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain. Regular comprehensive eye tests are crucial for early detection as advised by your optometrist.
Both wet and dry forms of MD begin in the Retinal Pigment Epithelium, or RPE, a layer of cells underneath the retina. The RPE is responsible for passing oxygen, sugar and other essentials up to the retina and moving waste products down to the blood vessels underneath (these vessels are called ‘the choroid’).
Macular degeneration occurs when this “garbage collection” breaks down and waste products from the retina build up underneath the RPE. These deposits, known as ‘drusen’, are easily seen by your eye care professional as yellow spots.
As macular degeneration progresses, vision loss occurs because the RPE cells die or because the RPE cells fail to prevent blood vessels from the choroid from growing into the retina.
Your eye works very similar to a camera. The lens at the front of your eye focuses the image onto the retina which lines the back of the eye. The retina acts like the film in the camera. The image is sent from the retina through the optic nerve and interpreted by our brain.
The macula is the very centre of the retina. You are reading this text using your macula. It is responsible for your central, detailed vision. It is responsible for your ability to read, distinguish faces, drive a car and any other activities which require fine vision.
Your peripheral retina gives you the ability to see general shapes and gives you your ‘get-about’ or peripheral vision.
In summary, what are the common symptoms?
- A gradual decline in the ability to see objects clearly
- Distorted vision
- Dark or empty spaces blocking the central field of vision
- Dimming of colour vision
- Visual hallucinations (see Charles Bonnet Syndrome)
This image shows what a bus may look like to someone with macular degeneration.
Can macular degeneration be treated?
There is currently no treatment for dry macular degeneration but treatments are available for wet macular degeneration that are aimed at maintaining the vision for as long as possible.
Some eye doctors recommend vitamin supplements to reduce the progression of dry macular degeneration. Lifestyle and diet are also important factors.
The main treatment for wet macular degeneration is Lucentis injections. The injections aim to reduce the progression of the disease and prevent further loss of vision. In some cases, vision may improve. The desired outcome is to prevent the growth of new abnormal blood vessels in the retina.
This information has been taken from the Macular Disease Foundation Australia and Vision Australia websites. If you are concerned about the health of your eyes, feel free to contact us on 02 99138458 to make an appointment for a consultation.