One of the most important reasons why you need regular examinations from your eye care provider is to be checked for macular degeneration. According to the Bright Focus™ Foundation, this condition is the number one cause of loss of vision and blindness in individuals ages 60 and above and is known
under these circumstances as age-related macular degeneration. Ten to fifteen million Americans have a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration, according to studies conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). Finally, as the second most frequent cause of irreversible blindness globally, the status of macular degeneration as a worldwide problem cannot be underestimated.
When we think of our “eyes,” we usually imagine the outer eye anatomy, which includes the round pupil and white sclera. Problems with eyesight, however, are more often caused by damage to the invisible structures behind the pupil. One of these unseen structures is the retina. The retina contains “photoreceptor” cells which pick up signals of light, movement and color that are translated by the brain into images. The back of the retina, locate on the opposite side of the eyeball from the pupil, is the retina’s center, the macula. The macula processes signals that allow us to see straight ahead and with clarity, color, contrast and detail.
Types of Macular Degeneration
Optometrists and ophthalmologists classify macular degeneration into two types: dry and wet, and a diagnosis can change over from one type to the other. The difference between the types can best be remembered by associating the term”wet” with blood vessels.
• Dry Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form and is responsible for approximately 90 percent of macular degeneration diagnoses. Yellow-colored metabolic waste products known as drusen collect beneath the retina, which causes painless but progressive damage and cell death to retinal cells. This form of the disease usually advances more gradually than does the wet form, but the ultimate result can be devastating: sufferers may be left without any central vision. Imagine a large dark “ball” blocking most of your vision all of the time. Peripheral vision is all that may remain, markedly impairing or rendering impossible normal activities such as driving, reading, watching television, cooking and any task that requires small, detail-oriented work.
• Wet Macular Degeneration
Wet macular degeneration makes up only 10 percent of this condition’s diagnoses but is responsible for legal blindness 90 percent of the time. In this form of the disease, the body attempts to compensate for the death of photoreceptors cells by growing new, but fragile, blood vessels behind the macula. These blood vessels may leak and can further impair eyesight, as well as causing permanent scarring of the macula. Symptoms of the damage are similar to that of dry macular degeneration; however, it can progress more rapidly.