The macula is the central portion of the retina, which is the film that records the images we see for the brain to interpret. Macular degeneration causes that central retina to deteriorate which, in turn, can affect vision. The macula is responsible for our most fine-tuned vision and is the center most focus point for the eye. When working correctly, the macula takes very detailed images and communicates them to the brain via the optic nerve. When the cells of the macula get sick and begin to deteriorate, it cannot record those images correctly, resulting in vision changes. Initially, those changes are minor to none but as the disease progresses, vision may be wavy or blurred, and in later stages of the disease, central vision may be lost altogether. However, even with advanced macular degeneration, peripheral vision remains intact. Peripheral vision is not as sharp as the central vision of a healthy macula so in advanced stages, macular degeneration can be devastating.
Macular degeneration is detected through a comprehensive, regular eye examination. Your eye doctor not only checks your visual acuity, but also examines the macula and retina during the dilated portion of the exam, looking for any pigment changes or drusen present in the macula. Early AMD does not require treatment although healthy lifestyle choices as discussed above are recommended by your optometrists. In intermediate to late stage AMD, specific nutritional supplements are recommended based on studies at the National Eye Institute which found that taking certain high-dose vitamins every day can slow progression of the disease in people who have intermediate stage AMD.
Advanced neovascular AMD typically results in severe vision loss. There are treatment options available to attempt to minimize that vision loss in advanced cases. These treatments are not a cure and the AMD may progress even with treatment. Injection therapy is the most-used treatment for “wet” macular degeneration. Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is injected into the eye, typically monthly, in a series of injections. In addition your optometrist will guide you on coping with vision loss.