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Macular Degeneration

A Deterioration of the Retina Which Causes Poor Central Vision

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of impaired reading or detailed vision. It is caused by the breakdown of the macula, the central portion of the retina. Although macular degeneration causes distortion of central and color vision, side vision is not affected.

What is the retina?

The retina is the thin layer of light sensitive tissue which serves as the inner lining of the eye. When light enters the eye, it is focused by the cornea and the lens onto the retina. The retina then transforms the light images into electrical impulses which are sent to the brain through the optic nerve.

What is the macula?

The macula is a very small area of the retina which is responsible for central vision and color vision. The macula allows us to read, drive and perform detailed work. Surrounding the macula is the peripheral retina which is responsible for side vision and night vision.

What causes macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is most commonly a natural result of the aging process. With time, the retinal tissues break down. This deterioration causes a loss of function of the macula.

In about 10% of cases of macular degeneration, aging of the retina is compounded by leakage of the tiny blood vessels which nourish the retina. Growth of new, abnormal blood vessels in the scar tissue that forms from the leaking blood vessels is also common. Blood and leaking fluid destroy the macula, causing vision to become distorted and blurred. The formation of dense scar tissue blocks out central vision to variable degrees.

Occasionally, macular degeneration is caused by injury, infection, or inflammation. The disease may also be hereditary.

What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

The most notable symptom of macular degeneration is blurry or distorted central vision. Difficulty in reading, doing close work, or driving may also be noticed. A person with macular degeneration may experience blurry words on a page, distortion of the center of a scene, a dark or empty area in the center of vision, or the distortion of lines.

Macular degeneration may also cause a dimming of color vision. Fortunately, the disease does not cause total blindness, as side vision is not affected.  Macular degeneration only affects central and color vision. However, if macular degeneration occurs in only one eye, the symptoms of the disease may not be noticed, as the “good” eye compensates for the “bad” eye.

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