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Macular Degeneration

Image of an elderly couple.

One of the most important reasons for regular examinations by your eye care provider is evaluate for the development of macular degeneration. According to the Bright Focus™ Foundation, this condition is the primary cause of loss of vision and blindness in older individuals ages 60 and above and is known under these circumstances as age-related macular degeneration. Studies conducted by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) indicate that 10 to 15 million Americans have a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration. Moreover, macular degeneration is a world-wide problem as the second most frequent cause of irreversible blindness globally.

Eye Anatomy

When we think of our "eyes," we usually imagine the outer eye anatomy with the round pupil and white sclera. Eyesight -- or the lack of it -- is more often caused by damage to the unseen structures behind the pupil. One of these inner, unseen structures is the retina which contains "photoreceptor" cells. These cells pick up signals of light, movement and color that are translated by the brain into images. The back of the retina -- 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

The science of optometry and ophthalmology, classify macular degeneration into one of two types: dry or wet. Diagnoses can change from one type to the other. The difference between the types can best be remembered by associating "wet" with blood vessels.

• Dry Macular Degeneration

This type of damage is the most common form, accounting for approximately 90 percent of macular degeneration diagnoses. Yellow-colored metabolic waste products known as drusen collect beneath the retina, causing a painless but progressive damage and cell death to retinal cells. This form of the disease usually progresses more slowly than does the wet form, however, its ultimate result can be devastating: sufferers may be left without any central version. Imagine a large dark "ball" blocking most of your site all of the time. Peripheral vision is all that may remain, markedly impairing or preventing normal activities of daily living such as driving, reading, watching television, cooking and any work that requires small, detail-oriented work.

• Wet Macular Degeneration

Wet macular degeneration makes up only 10 percent of this condition's diagnoses but is the culprit in legal blindness 90 percent of the time. In this form of the disease, the body attempts to make up for the death of photoreceptors cells by growing new, but fragile, blood vessels behind the macula. Leaking blood vessels can further impair sight and cause permanent scarring of the macula. Symptoms of the damage are similar to that of dry macular degeneration, however, its progress can take place rapidly.