What is the macula?
The macula is a small area at the very centre of the retina. The retina is the area at the back of the eye made up of the millions of cells that convert light into images that our brain can interpret. The macula is very important as it is responsible for what we see straight ahead, enabling us to discriminate fine detail for activities such as reading and writing, as well as providing colour vision. Sometimes the cells that are found in the macular area become damaged and can no longer convert light into an image.
What is Macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a painless eye disease associated with ageing that causes progressive loss of detailed central vision. People who have macular degeneration find it hard to read, to recognise faces and to drive. The peripheral vision is not affected and so people with macular degeneration can still move around fairly freely, and complete blindness does not occur. In some cases, macular degeneration advances so slowly that it will have little effect on vision with age, while in others the disease can progress faster and may lead to a loss of central vision in one or both eyes.
Macular degeneration tends to be categorised as either ‘wet’ or ‘dry’, based on what we as eye specialists can see when we look at the macula. The ‘wet’ type of macular degeneration is rare.
90% of people with macular degeneration will have the ‘dry’ form of the condition.
- ‘Dry’ macular degeneration usually develops slowly, often over years, and the vision deteriorates very gradually. There is as yet no treatment for this condition.
- ‘Wet’ macular degeneration arises as a result of abnormal leaking blood vessels under the macula. These blood vessels can bleed and cause scarring. The effect on vision is much more sudden, often progressing rapidly within a few months. This type of macular degeneration can respond to timely treatment in the early stages.
Macular degeneration usually involves both eyes, although one may be affected long before the other. This sometimes makes the condition difficult to notice at first because the sight in the ‘good’ eye is compensating for the loss of sight in the affected eye. This is why it is important to have regular eye check-ups.
What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?
- Macular degeneration is a painless condition in both forms
- The earliest and most common sign of ‘dry’ macular degeneration is blurred vision. Details such as words on a page or faces seem out of focus, especially if the light is poor
- In later stages, people will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the centre of their vision
- The first symptom of ‘wet’ macular degeneration is straight lines looking crooked or distorted, and objects may look an unusual size or shape
- You may be very sensitive to light or actually see lights, shapes and colours that are not there