Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

You may not be familiar with the term “Macular Degeneration”, but this incurable eye disease afflicts more that 10 million Americans and is the leading cause of blindness in people over 55 years old. Over 200,000 new cases of AMD are diagnosed every year. Macular degeneration affects more Americans than Glaucoma and Cataracts combined!

Age-related Macular Degeneration (also known as AMD) is, literally, the degeneration or deterioration of the Macula, which is the central area of the Retina. While the entire retina records the images we see and transmits them to the brain via the optic nerve, the macula is where our central vision is focused. As this crucial area deteriorates, sufferers of AMD gradually lose the ability to read, drive, and detect fine details of objects they’re observing. It’s not clear just what causes macular degeneration. It may simply be a function of the aging process. This possibility raises great concern, for as the Baby Boom generation enters their declining years the frequency of AMD is expected to increase accordingly.

Macular degeneration has two basic types, known as “Dry” AMD and “Wet” AMD.

Dry AMD is caused by the accumulation of “Drusen” beneath the macula. These drusen are clumps of non-cellular matter that are related to the base membrane of the retina. As the drusen build up beneath the macula, it tends to dry out and the cells within it begin to die. The macula becomes thin and loses its function.

In the “wet” type of AMD, blood vessels grow under the macula. If these abnormal blood vessels leak blood or fluid, the macula will become raised and distorted. Patients my see dark spots in their center of vision, and straight lines may look wavy. The loss of vision brought about by the effects of “wet” AMD can be severe and often progresses rapidly. Although limited success in slowing the progression of “wet” AMD has been achieved by the use of Laser treatment and Photodynamic Therapy, the disease still can only be slowed, not reversed.

There is a related form of macular degeneration that occurs in children between the ages of 6 and 20 known as Stargardt’s disease. This is an inherited disease that is very rare compared to typical age-related macular degeneration, striking approximately 1 child in every 10,000. There is at the present time no cure for Stargardt’s disease.

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