Macula is an oval-shaped, highly pigmented yellow spot near the center of the retina in the human eye. This spot is responsible for direct or central vision, but not the peripheral vision. Any damage caused to this part can cause blurriness or loss of central vision, but the peripheral vision remains intact. The loss of central vision due to gradual damage to the macula is called macular degeneration. This disease is mainly related to advanced age; and in rare cases, it can affect younger people too. Usually, this condition develops after the age of 50, and if left untreated, it can lead to permanent loss of vision. As this disease is rare in young people, the term 'macular degeneration' is generally used to denote the age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD).
Types of Macular Degeneration
The initial stages of macular degeneration are characterized by small, round, yellow spots, called 'drusen', in the macula. This condition can lead to advanced AMD, with more and more drusen causing disturbances to the pigmented layer behind the macula. There are two forms of advanced AMD - the dry form and the wet form. In the dry form (central geographic atrophy), gradual damage is caused to the cells in the macula, which results in slow deterioration of central vision. The wet form (Neovascular or exudative AMD) is caused by abnormal growth of blood vessels behind the retina. The leakage of blood from these vessels leads to damage of cells in the macula, and thereby causes impairment to central vision. Those with the dry form of this disease experience gradual loss of central vision, whereas the wet form may cause rapid loss of central vision. In some cases, those with dry form may develop wet AMD.
Signs of Macular Degeneration
While the dry form of AMD is more common, the wet form is more advanced and severe. According to statistics, nine out of ten patients have the dry form of AMD. Even though the main factor leading to this disease is age; smoking, heredity, and obesity are also associated with the condition.
- The common macular degeneration symptom is blurred central and distant vision. This condition may not be noticed until both the eyes are affected badly. If only one eye is affected, the other one compensates for the damage, and the patient may remain unaware of the disease.
- As the disease progresses, central scotomas or blind spots develop in the vision field. This results in shadows in the central vision.
- Another symptom is distorted vision, otherwise known as metamorphopsia. In this case, straight lines may look bent or wavy. Sometimes a part of the grid may appear blank.
- The affected person may face difficulty in distinguishing colors. The size, shape, and color of an object may vary from one eye to another.
- Another symptom is swelling or bulging of the macula, characterized by micropsia (objects appearing smaller in one eye than the other).
- Exposure to bright light may cause an impairment to the visual function for some time.
Macular degeneration can cause inability in reading, driving, and in recognizing faces. Adaptive devices, like magnifying glasses, and desktop and portable electronic devices are available for people suffering from this disease. This condition can be prevented to some extent, by quitting smoking, and by following a diet rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc. The nutrients found in green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, collards, etc., are good for preventing vision problems. Even spices, such as saffron, and egg yolks are said to be beneficial to some extent. According to some studies, consumption of spinach or collard greens, five times a week, cuts the risk of macular degeneration by 43%.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.