The inside of the eye is lined with a light sensitive layer called the retina. The majority of the retina provides our peripheral vision and is therefore designed to see shapes and objects but it does not see things clearly.
It is only the central part of the retina called the macula that is responsible for detailed vision that is required for reading, writing, driving or seeing faces clearly.
Macular degeneration occurs when this central part of the retina is unable to function normally. The remainder of the retina continues to work properly however, so peripheral or “side vision” is maintained so that the condition will not cause complete blindness.
The two main types of macular degeneration are Dry Macular Degeneration and Wet Macular Degeneration.
Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is caused by changes to the specialised layer of pigment beneath the retina that is responsible for providing nutrients to the light sensitive cells of the retina. The pigment cells can wear out causing macular atrophy, or there can be a build up of retinal waste products called Drusen, which interfere with the normal functioning of the retina.
This process happens gradually and is responsible for 90% of cases of macular degeneration.
Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration is caused by new blood vessels growing beneath the retina. These new blood vessels leak fluid into the retina causing it to swell and cause distorted vision.
This process can happen suddenly and is responsible for 10% of cases of macular degeneration.
How common is macular degeneration ?
Macular degeneration most commonly affects people over 50 and is called Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD). About 15% of people over 70 and 30% of people over 80 have AMD and 7% have advanced AMD.
There is no known treatment to prevent or cure Dry AMD but there is good evidence that taking certain supplements can make it less likely to get worse. If you would like specific advice about macular degeneration and your eyes click here to book a Specialist Consultation.
Wet AMD can be treated by injecting drugs into the eye to mop up the fluid from the leaky blood vessels. It is important that treatment is started as soon as possible so if you are at risk of Wet AMD regular monitoring of your vision with an Amsler chart to check for distortion is recommended.