Macular Degeneration

What is it?

Macular degeneration is a common condition affecting the back (retina) of one or both eyes in the area that allows you to see small detains (macula).  Two types of macular degeneration exist:

Dry:  This is the much more common form where small spots or areas of tissue loss form in the macula, causing possible vision loss.

Wet:  This form is less common but can be visually devastating. In the macula, fragile new blood vessels grow which can easily bleed into the eye and may result in scarring.  Wet macular degeneration is often preceded by the dry form, so preventative measures should be taken to try to stop the dry form from converting to wet.

What causes it?

It is not fully known what causes macular degeneration.  It may be due to poor eye circulation that results in the natural waste products of the tissues building up in the retina.  The currently known risk factors for macular degeneration include:  older age, smoking, UV exposure, poor diet, light skin & eye colour and blood relatives with the condition.

How does it affect my eyes?

Dry macular degeneration is normally discovered during an eye exam before it affects how you see.  It takes many years to develop and is normally first noticed visually as a small blank spot or area of distortion right where you are trying to look.  In contrast, the wet form can happen rather quickly - overnight, even - and usually results in a very distinct central blind spot.  If you ever notice a sudden blank spot in your vision, have your eyes checked right away so that if wet macular degeneration is the cause, the bleeding can be stopped soon to minimize vision loss.

What can be done about it?

Since there is no cure for macular degeneration, prevention is key.  OHIP covers those 65 and older for annual eye exams, and dilation of the pupils at the exam aids in earlier detection.  If dry macular degeneration is found, you might be educated about eye vitamins, sunglasses, exercising, and not smoking.  You may also be given a grid-pattern test to do at home that detects progression to the wet form between yearly eye exams.  Upon diagnosis of the wet form, you will be referred soon to a retinal specialist who may use lasers or injections to lessen the bleeding.  However, treatments for wet macular degeneration rarely restore much vision, so have your eyes tested regularly and follow your eye doctor's instructions to help prevent this blinding condition.

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