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What is macular degeneration?

Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. We do not know why this is, although it tends to happen as people get older. This is called age-related macular degeneration.

Because macular degeneration is an age-related process it usually involves both eyes, although they may not be affected at the same time. With many people the visual cells simply cease to function, like the colors fading in an old photograph - this is known as ‘dry’ degeneration. Sometimes there is scarring of the macula caused by the leaking blood vessels and this is called disciform maculopathy.

Children and young people can also suffer from an inherited form of macular degeneration called macular dystrophy, Sometimes several members of a family will suffer from this, and if this is the case in your family, it is very important that eyes are checked regularly.

Macular degeneration is not painful and never leads to total blindness. It is the most common cause of poor eyesight in people over 60, but never leads to complete sight loss because it is only the central vision that is affected. Macular degeneration never affects vision at the outer edges of the eye. This means that almost everyone with macular degeneration will have enough side vision to get around and keep his or her independence.

What are the symptoms?

In the early stages central vision may be blurred or distorted, with things looking an unusual size or shape. This may happen quickly or develop over several months. You may be very sensitive to light or actually see lights that are not there. This may cause some discomfort occasionally, but otherwise macular degeneration is not painful.

The macula enables people to see fine details and those with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the center of their sight. This makes activities like reading, writing and recognizing small objects or faces very difficult. 

What should I do if I think that I have macular degeneration?

If you suspect that you may have macular degeneration but there are no acute symptoms you should see your optometrist of your doctor who will refer you to an eye specialist. If you have acute symptoms then you should consult your doctor or local casualty department immediately.

This factsheet is designed to give you a very brief introduction to the subject of macular degeneration.

- Information provided by the American Optometric Association -

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