What is macular degeneration?
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common, painless eye condition that causes central vision loss. It often occurs in both eyes and usually affects people over 60 but can it can happen earlier.
Your macula is near the centre of your retina, at the back of your eye. It is where incoming rays of light are focussed and its degeneration causes it to function less effectively and this results in changes to your central vision. It means that things appear distorted or blurry when you look straight at them. Eventually a blank patch may appear in the centre of your vision.
With AMD, you will not lose all of your vision, you will maintain your peripheral (side) vision.
What causes macular degeneration?
The cause of macular degeneration depends on the type. There are two main types of AMD, dry and wet.
The most common types of refractive errors are:
- Dry AMD – most common and least serious. Dry AMD and vision loss are gradual with age and often occur over many years. The light-sensitive cells in your macula start to break down and waste products build up and form small deposits called drusen that increase in size as AMD progresses. Some people may go on to develop wet AMD.
- Wet AMD – less frequent and needs rapid treatment. New blood cells develop underneath the macular, it’s thought to try and clear drusen from the retina, and they can leak fluid and blood into the eye that can quickly cause swelling and serious damage of the macula.
What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?
With AMD your central vision will become increasingly blurred. Usually this is gradual, although it can happen swiftly. It can affect many everyday tasks such as: difficulty reading, driving, watching television and writing. Colours will appear less vibrant and you may struggle to identify people’s faces.
When should I seek treatment?
If you experience any of the above symptoms you should make an appointment with an optometrist at your local opticians or an ophthalmologist to have an eye test that will measure any changes in your eye sight and look at the back of your eye.
If changes to your macula are detected, you may be referred to your GP or a consultant ophthalmologist.
How is macular degeneration diagnosed?
AMD may be detected when you visit your optometrist for an eye test. They may then refer you on to an ophthalmology specialist who will perform further tests to confirm the diagnosis including:
- Eye drops – to dilate your pupils and allow your ophthalmologist to see the back of your eye clearly.
- OCT scans – create cross-sectional images of your retina.
- Fluorescein dye angiography – a dye highlights your blood vessels in the retina so they can be photographed.
Treatment options if you have macular degeneration
Unfortunately, currently there is no cure for dry or wet AMD.
Treatment for dry AMD will help with your remaining vision, such as magnifying lenses for easier reading, larger print books, and lighting advice. You may also be given dietary information as there is evidence that leafy green vegetables can slow down the progression of dry AMD.
Early treatment of wet AMD is essential to reduce your risk of severe loss of vision. Treatment often involves anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medication to stop further blood vessels developing or sometimes laser surgery to destroy abnormal blood vessels. Newer treatments include: macular translocation where your macula is moved to a healthier section of the eyeball, and lens implantation where the lens of your eye is replaced with an artificial lens to improve your central vision.