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Macular Degeneration: What You Need to Know with Dr. Michael Ehrenhaus

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a process in which the macula, located near the center part of the retina, deteriorates. The macula affects the rest of the retina and is responsible for crisp vision. Macular degeneration impairs central vision, and it is caused by the damaging of nerve cells in the macula, which is inside the back layer of the eye and records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The macula controls our ability to focus our eyes and macular degeneration impacts activities such as driving a car, reading, and seeing faces and objects in detail.

Who gets macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration causes more vision loss than any other eye condition, including cataracts and glaucoma combined. As the leading cause of vision loss, macular degeneration affects more than 10 million people in America alone. The condition is considered an incurable eye disease.

Many people develop macular degeneration as they age, as part of the body’s natural aging process. In fact, the biggest risk factor for the disease is age. It is most common to develop in those 55 years and older. Other risk factors are:

  • Smoking - this doubles the risk of developing the condition
  • Genetics - if the disease runs in the family, you are more likely to get it   
  • Race - Caucasians have a higher chance of getting the disease than African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos do

Types of macular degeneration

There are two basic types of macular degeneration: dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. Most people who have macular degeneration have the dry form. This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. With dry macular degeneration, vision loss is typically gradual, and people with dry macular degeneration must carefully and consistently monitor their central vision. While there is no medication or treatment for dry macular degeneration, some people may benefit from a vitamin therapy regimen. About 10 percent of people who have macular degeneration have the wet form, which can cause more damage to your central or detail vision than the dry form. Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow underneath the retina. This blood vessel growth is called choroidal neovascularization (CNV) because these vessels grow from the layer under the retina called the choroid. The longer these abnormal vessels leak or grow, the greater risk you have of losing more of your detailed vision.

In addition, there are three different stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The first stage is Early AMD, and most people do not experience vision loss in the early stage of macular degeneration, which is why eye exams are important. The second stage is Intermediate AMD, and at this stage there may be some vision loss without any noticeable symptoms. The final stage is Late AMD in which vision loss has become noticeable.

The good news is if you go to the doctor, he or she can determine which type you have and give you advice. Vitamins may possibly help, injections may possibly help, and laser treatment may help. So it is important to check to see which type you have and what can be done for your case.