Macular degeneration is the progressive destruction of the macula, an oval spot in the eye that is responsible for central vision and is specialized for fine detail. Because this condition usually affects the elderly, it is also referred to as age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. In the United States, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness in those over sixty-five years of age.
There are two types of macular degeneration. Dry (non-neovascular) macular degeneration is an early stage of the disease, and is diagnosed when deteriorating tissue begins to accumulate as yellowish spots known as drusen. Wet (neovascular) macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow beneath the retina, leaking blood and fluid, and permanently damaging retinal cells.
Macular degeneration usually results in a slow and painless loss of vision, although more rapid vision loss sometimes occurs. Early signs of AMD-related vision loss include shadowy areas in central vision, or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision. Even before symptoms appear, your healthcare provider may detect AMD through a retinal examination. A special graph pattern called an Amsler grid may then be used to help determine if AMD is the problem.
As already mentioned, macular degeneration is usually associated with aging and the related deterioration of eye tissues. Specific variants of one or more genes have also been linked to AMD. Other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, light eye color, not wearing sunglasses when exposed to sunlight, obesity, the use of certain drugs, and a poor diet – espe8ically one that is high in fat. Many researchers believe that certain nutrients can help lower the risk for AMD.