What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of impaired reading or detailed vision. The center portion of the retina, the macula, breaks down, and loss of vision occurs. This condition causes distortion in the central field of vision; peripheral (side) vision is not damaged.

What Causes Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is most often a result of the normal aging process. As we age, retinal tissue breaks down, and gradual deterioration causes loss of function of the macular.

In a small percentage of cases, macular degeneration is compounded by the leakage of blood vessels that nourish the retina. Scar tissue and new abnormal vessels grow. Leakage from these new vessels is common, causing blurred and distorted vision. This dense scar tissue formation can have several effects on the central vision.

Injury or some types of infection may also cause macular degeneration. In addition, genetics may play a role, as the condition may also be hereditary.

Macular degeneration occurs when the center portion of the retina breaks down and causes vision loss or distortion in the central field of vision. It is typically a normal result of aging but can also be caused by leaking blood vessels, scar tissue, injury, or genetics.

Macular degeneration is the most common cause of vision loss in seniors over 60 years, but can also affect people as young as 40. Anyone with these risk factors should be evaluated:

  • Experience distorted central vision
  • Experience fading color vision
  • Age 60+
  • Family history of macular degeneration
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

To test for macular degeneration, your doctor will conduct one or more of these tests:

  • Dilated eye exam – your doctor dilates your eyes to look for yellow deposits under the retina called drusen
  • Amsler grid – macular degeneration may cause some of the straight lines in the grid to look faded, broken, or distorted
  • Fluorescein angiography – use of a camera and special dye circulating through your eyes to identify blood vessels that are closed, broken, or leaking
  • Indocyanine green angiography – similar to fluorescein angiography, this test uses an injected dye to identify specific types of macular degeneration.
  • Optical coherence tomography – a noninvasive imaging test that shows the thickness of the retina, which determines whether fluid has leaked into retinal tissue


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