What is Macular Degeneration?
The macula is the central part of the retina. When it breaks down, loss of vision is likely to ensue. The condition results in distortion in the central section of the field of vision, but the side (peripheral) vision remains unaltered. The leading cause of impaired reading or detailed vision is macular degeneration. It is most common in people over the age of 60, but people as young as 40 can also be affected.
What Causes Macular Degeneration?
The most common cause of macular degeneration is the ordinary process of aging. With aging comes the breaking down of retinal tissue as well as the gradual deterioration of vision that causes the macular to lose its function. In some circumstances, the condition is aggravated by leaking blood vessels responsible for nourishing the retina. In this circumstance, scar tissue starts to grow, and so do abnormal blood vessels. These new blood vessels will commonly leak, often resulting in blurred or distorted vision. Central vision can be affected in several ways by the dense scar-tissue formation.
Some types of infections or injuries can cause macular degeneration as well. However, genetics also plays a large part, as the condition can also be hereditary.
Who Should Undergo a Macular Degeneration Checkup?
While the condition is more common among the aging population (over 60), it still affects individuals as young as 40. If you have any of the following risk factors, you should be checked for macular degeneration:
- Hereditary factors, such as a family history of macular degeneration
- Cardiovascular disease
If you have experienced any of these symptoms, then you should see an eyecare professional for evaluation.
- Distorted central vision- When you are experiencing distorted central vision, even ordinary activities like driving and reading will present a challenge. If you see distorted lines, blurred words on a page, or darkness in the middle of your vision, then you should visit an eye doctor immediately.
- Fading of color vision- In this case side vision is not affected, as there is not a total loss of sight. Fading color of vision causes the good eye to make up for the bad eye (if the condition involves only one eye). Consequently, the compensation makes it possible to conceal the symptoms of the disease.
How to Test for Macular Degeneration?
To test and diagnose macular degeneration, your doctor may administer one or more of the tests below. Also, your doctor may also review your family medical history and conduct a comprehensive eye exam.
Dilated eye exam- The doctor dilates your eyes in search of yellow deposits called drusen that appear under the retina.
Amsler grid- When looking at this grid, if the straight lines begin to look distorted, broken or faded, then it may be a sign of macular degeneration.
Optical coherence tomography- This test is used to determine the thickness of the retina. This is a noninvasive imaging test that helps determine whether fluid has leaked into the retina.
Fluorescein angiography- This technique uses a special camera and dye to identify retinal changes or abnormal blood vessels. A dye will be injected into a vein in your arm and will travel to the blood vessels in your eye, highlighting them along the way. The special camera will take pictures as the dye travels.
Indocyanine green angiography- This is very similar to fluorescein angiography in that a dye is injected. This test is used to confirm any findings in the fluorescein angiography test and can also be helpful in identifying specific types of macular degeneration.