What is the macula?
Imagine that your eye is like a camera. There is a lens and an aperture (an opening) at the front, which both adjust to bring objects into focus on the retina at the back of your eye. The retina is made up of a delicate tissue that is sensitive to light, rather like the film in a camera.
The macula is found at the centre of the retina where the incoming rays of light are focused. The macula is very important and is responsible for:
- What we see straight in front of us
- The vision needed for detailed activities such as reading and writing
- Our ability to appreciate colour
What is macular degeneration?
Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. We do not know why this is, although it tends to happen as people get older. This is called age-related macular degeneration. Because macular degeneration is an age-related process it usually involves both eyes, although they may not be affected at the same time. With many people the visual cells simply cease to function, like the colours fading in an old photograph – this is known as ‘dry’ degeneration. Sometimes there is scarring of the macula caused by leaking blood vessels and this is called disciform maculopathy. Children and young people can also suffer from an inherited form of macular degeneration called macular dystrophy. Sometimes several members of a family will suffer from this, and if this is the case in your family it is very important that you have your eyes examined regularly.
Is there any good news!?
Macular degeneration is not painful, and never leads to total blindness. It is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60 but never leads to complete sight loss because it is only the central vision that is affected. Macular degeneration never affects vision at the outer edges of the eye. This means that almost everyone with macular degeneration will have enough side vision to get around and keep their independence. New medical and surgical treatments for macular degeneration are fast being developed. In addition, specialised low vision devices such as BiOptic telescopes can significantly improve the quality of life for many people with macular degeneration.
What are the symptoms?
In the early stages your central vision may be blurred or distorted, with things looking an unusual size or shape. This may happen quickly or develop over several months. You may be very sensitive to light or actually see lights that are not there. The macula enables you to see fine detail and people with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the centre of their sight. This makes activities like reading, writing and recognising small objects or faces very difficult.
What should I do if I think I have macular degeneration?
If you suspect that you may have macular degeneration but there are no acute symptoms you should contact the practice who can refer you to the hospital if necessary. If you have acute symptoms then you should contact the practice immediately or the local eye casualty department. If macular degeneration has already been diagnosed in one of your eyes, and your other eye is getting acute symptoms, then you should contact the hospital that usually looks after you, or your local eye casualty department, as soon as possible.
For further information: http://www.maculardisease.org/