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What is Macular Degeneration?

If you’re here, you’ve probably just been diagnosed, or suspect you have Macular Degeneration, or someone you care about has just been diagnosed or suspects they have the disease.

This entire site is dedicated to information regarding Macular Degeneration, but this page will give you a quick general overview to get you oriented. 

Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans - more than cataracts and glaucoma combined.

At present, Macular Degeneration is considered an incurable eye disease.

Macular Degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain. The retina’s central portion, known as the macula, is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.

Normal Eye

Anatomy of a Normal Human Eye

Animation of loss of central vision

Animation of loss of central vision

Replay annimation

Types: There are two basic types of Macular Degeneration: “dry” and “wet”. Approximately 85% to 90% of the cases of Macular Degeneration are the “dry” (atrophic) type, while 10-15% are the “wet” (exudative) type.

 

Stargardt disease is a form of macular degeneration found in young people, caused by a recessive gene.

Stages: There are three stages of AMD.

• Early AMD - most people do not experience vision loss in the early stage of AMD, which is why regular eye exams are important,
particularly if you have more than one risk factor. Early AMD is diagnosed by the presence of medium-sized drusen (yellow deposits beneath the retina).

• Intermediate AMD - at this stage, there may be some vision loss, but there still may not be noticeable symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam with specific tests will look for larger drusen and/or pigment changes in the retina.

• Late AMD - at this stage, vision loss has become noticeable.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Macular Degeneration already, here are Ten Questions to Ask Your Doctor.

Causes: The specific factors that cause macular degeneration are not conclusively known and research into this little understood disease is limited by insufficient funding. At this point, what is known about age-related Macular Degeneration is that the causes are complex, but include both heredity and environment.

Dr. Carl Kupfer, the former Director of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, has stated that Macular Degeneration will soon take on aspects of an epidemic as the Baby Boomers’ age.

“The prevalence of AMD is expected to rise to 6.3 million by the year 2030, when even greater percentages of our population will have turned 60.” (1.)

Risk Factors: The biggest risk factor for Macular Degeneration is age. Your risk increases as you age, and the disease is most likely to occur in those 55 and older.

Other risk factors include:

• Genetics - People with a family history of AMD are at a higher risk.

• Race - Caucasians are more likely to develop the disease than African-Americans or Hispanics/Latinos.

• Smoking - Smoking doubles the risk of AMD.

For more explanation of risk factors, click here.

Treatment: There is currently no known cure for Macular Degeneration, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk, and possibly slow the progression once you’ve been diagnosed. Reducing risk and slowing progression includes lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, avoiding smoking, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light.

For more information on treatments for advanced stage AMD, click here.

10 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Vision