Macular degeneration is a common eye condition that typically affects people as they get older. It is one of the most common causes of visual impairment and is more prevalent in women than men. Approximately 30% of people over the age of 75 have the condition to some degree. Macular degeneration treatment is improving all the time meaning less and less people are left with severe visual impairment.
What is the Macula?
In order to understand macular degeneration, it would help to first explain exactly where the macula is located and its role in the eye. When you are looking at something or someone what you are actually looking at is different shades and contrasts of light. This light enters your eye through your pupil and is focussed by your cornea and lens so that it falls onto the retina at the back of the eye. The very central part of your retina is the macula and it is responsible for the vision when you look directly at something. If you imagine the following analogy it may help you to understand the role your macular plays in your vision:
Imagine you are looking directly at the bull’s-eye on a dart board. Your macula is responsible for the vision relating to the small central area of the bull’s-eye. However, although you are looking directly at the bull’s-eye you are still able to see the rest of the surrounding dart board. This is your peripheral vision and is not affected in Macular degeneration. Only the very central part of your vision is affected. This central area (macula) is however the most important part of your vision, as it is involved with all the detailed tasks in your life such as reading and writing and it is especially important for detecting colours. Your macular is not particularly important for your mobility as your peripheral vision is primarily used when walking around etc.
Explaining Macular degeneration:
You can probably tell from the name that the condition relates to the degeneration of the Macula. When discussing macular degeneration ophthalmologists will typically group the disease in to 2 main categories: Wet macular degeneration and Dry macular degeneration. Although both conditions affect the macula, the symptoms of macular degeneration are different for the 2 different types and this is one of the primary ways of distinguishing between the 2 forms of the disease. Both affect your central vision which is especially important for reading, writing and recognising faces. The causes of macular degeneration are not fully understood although there are certain risk factors which increase the likelihood of you developing the condition.