DOES MACULAR DEGENERATION CAUSE BLINDNESS?

Dr. Jim Martin 02/15/2016

fuzzy-vision.pngAge related macular degeneration (AMD) is the top cause of vision loss and blindness among the age 65 and older segment of the American population. As the number of people in this population segment continues to increase, so does the incidence of macular degeneration. Currently, there are approximately 1.75 million Americans with advanced age related macular degeneration with associated vision loss. It is anticipated that by 2020, this figure will reach nearly three million.

AMD Definition And Symptoms

Macular degeneration is exactly as the name suggests: the degeneration of the macula, which is the area of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. The retina transforms light into electrical signals, which it sends through the optic nerve to the brain. The brain translates these signals into the images that we see. A damaged macula may make central vision appear distorted, dark, or blurry. Typically, macular degeneration doesn't result in total blindness with no ability to see. However, limited central vision can compromise a wide range of daily tasks, including reading, writing, driving, cooking, and recognizing faces.

Types Of Macular Degeneration

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry (non-neovascular) and wet (neovascular). Between 85 and 90 percent of macular degeneration patients have dry macular degeneration. Dry macular degeneration is the result of the thinning and aging of the macular tissues, pigment depositing in the macula, or a combination of these two processes.

In about 10 percent of degeneration patients, the condition progresses to wet degeneration, which often leads to more severe vision loss. Wet degeneration patients experience blood vessel growth in areas where blood vessels aren't supposed to grow, such as underneath the retina. When these blood vessels leak blood and fluid, the light-sensitive retinal cells become permanently damaged, die off, and form blind spots in the central vision.

Early Signs And Testing

Eye care practitioners perform retinal exams as part of regular checkups to screen for macular degeneration before symptoms even occur. When an optometrist suspects degeneration, he administers a brief evaluation using an Amsler grid to measure central vision. An Amsler grid consists of black lines arranged in a graph pattern with a reference dot in the middle. Macular degeneration patients often see blurred or wavy lines with dark regions in the center. If your eye doctor detects central vision defects, he may order a fluorescein angiography to assess the retinal blood vessels around the macula.

Completing regular eye exams allows your optometrist to screen for and detect macular degeneration when it's still in the early stages. If you're experiencing unusually fuzzy or distorted vision or you have shadowy areas in your central vision, schedule an appointment with Broome Optical today.

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