Macular degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, painless loss of central vision, affecting the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces.
Although there is no cure for MD, there are treatment options that can slow down its progression, depending on the stage and type of the disease (wet, dry, and other forms). The earlier the disease is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain.
Both wet and dry forms of MD begin in the Retinal Pigment Epithelium, or RPE, a layer of cells underneath the retina. The RPE is responsible for passing oxygen, sugar and other essentials up to the retina and moving waste products down to the blood vessels underneath (these vessels are called ‘the choroid’).
MD occurs when this “garbage collection” breaks down and waste products from the retina build up underneath the RPE. These deposits, known as ‘drusen’, are easily seen by your eye care professional as yellow spots.
As MD progresses, vision loss occurs because the RPE cells die or because the RPE cells fail to prevent blood vessels from the choroid from growing into the retina.
In the early stages of MD, when drusen first appear, you may not realise anything is wrong and you may still have normal vision. That is the best time to detect the disease and take preventative action in way of dietary changes, improved general health and well-being, vitamins and ongoing care and supervision with your optometrist and ophthalmologist.
MD can also be self monitored by using an Amsler Grid.