Macular degeneration is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is in a small area in the retina at the back of the eye that allows you to see fine details clearly.
Macular degeneration alone does not result in total blindness. Even in more advanced cases, people continue to have some useful vision and are often able to take care of themselves. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.
AMD is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in patients over 60 years of age. It is a degenerative disease of the macula which is the central part of the retina and affects the central vision. There are two forms of macular degeneration: Dry AMD, or nonexudative AMD, where yellow white deposits called drusen accumulate in the deep macula with or without atrophy or ‘balding’ of the layers of the retina/macula. This leads to interference in the function of the photoreceptors responsible for processing of light coming into the eye which in turn causes decrease in vision.
This Dry AMD can progress to a more severe Wet AMD or exudative type of macular degeneration where abnormal choroidal vessels leak fluid, or rupture and bleed causing severe and often permanent central visual loss.
Flashes and Floaters
Floaters are small specks or clouds you see moving in your field of vision. Floaters may be a symptom of a tear in the retina. If a retinal tear is not treated, the retina may detach from the back of the eye. The only treatment for a detached retina is surgery. Other floaters are harmless and fade over time or become less bothersome, requiring no treatment. When the vitreous gel rubs or pulls on the retina, you may see what looks like flashing lights or lightning streaks. You may have experienced this same sensation if you have ever been hit in the eye and seen “stars.” Even if you have had floaters for years, you should schedule an eye examination with your ophthalmologist if you suddenly notice new ones.
Retinal Tears or Detachments
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position. The retina does not work when it is detached.
These early symptoms may indicate the presence of a retinal detachment:
- flashing lights
- new floaters
- a shadow in the periphery of your field of vision
- a gray curtain moving across your field of vision
These symptoms do not always mean a retinal detachment is present; however, you should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Your ophthalmologist can diagnose retinal detachment during an eye examination in which he or she dilates (enlarges) the
pupils of your eyes. Some retinal detachments are found during a routine eye examination. Only after careful examination can your ophthalmologist tell whether a retinal tear or early retinal detachment is present.