The macula is the central area of the retina, the thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye with the light sensitive cells essential for our vision. The macula is the specialised area in the central retina that is responsible for our detailed, fine central vision for tasks including reading.
Macular degeneration is a group of conditions that cause damage to this area, resulting in loss of detailed vision, but in which peripheral or side vision generally remains preserved. It is a leading cause of blindness in Australia.
The main risk factor for Macular Degeneration is age. Other risk factors include family history of Macular Degeneration, smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol.
There are two main types of macular degeneration – wet and dry. In Dry MD, the retina and underlying tissues gradually show signs of wear and tear, resulting in vision deterioration that is usually slowly progressive. There is no currently available treatment, but research is continuing.
In Wet MD, abnormal blood vessels form under the retina that can leak fluid and bleed, which distorts vision and damages the light sensitive cells of the macular region. Untreated, Wet MD often results in a rapid deterioration in central vision. Unlike Dry MD, however, treatment is often possible. Usually this involves a series of injections to stop the leakage from the abnormal vessels.
Ophthalmologists are well trained in detecting and treating macular degeneration, giving the best chance of preserving vision.