Millions of Americans—most of them 50 or older—have some type of macular disease, which affects the round area in the center of the retina at the back of the eye. This area is known as the macula, and it’s responsible for processing what you see directly in front of you. So, if your macula becomes worn or damaged, it can affect your ability to read, drive, watch TV, and even recognize faces.
Common Macular Diseases of the Eye
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is perhaps the best-known macular condition, but there are others. Here’s a brief description of the most common macular eye diseases and the symptoms that typically accompany them:
Dry Macular Degeneration
This is the most common type of AMD, and it results from the macula thinning due to age. It can develop in one or both eyes or become noticeable in one eye and then affect the vision of both eyes. In the early stages, people with dry macular degeneration may have no symptoms. When symptoms become apparent, they may include:
- Increased blurriness of printed words
- The need for brighter light when reading or performing detail work
- Visual distortions, such as seeing straight lines as bent or wavy
- A blurry or blind spot in the center of your field of vision
- Diminished vibrancy of colors
- Increased trouble adapting visually when transitioning from bright to dim light levels
Wet Macular Degeneration
This is a less common but more severe form of macular degeneration. It’s caused by abnormal blood vessels leaking fluid into the macula. Wet macular degeneration always begins as the dry type of macular disease.
The symptoms of wet macular degeneration are similar to those of dry macular degeneration. However, with the wet macular condition, symptoms usually come on suddenly and grow worse rapidly, while the symptoms of dry macular degeneration typically develop more gradually.
This macular condition occurs when blood vessels leak into the macula, causing it to swell. It’s often a side effect of diabetes. Unlike wet macular degeneration, which results from abnormal new blood vessel growth, diabetic macular edema is usually caused by damage to existing blood vessels. Symptoms tend to develop slowly and may include:
- Blurry vision
- A wavy appearance to objects in the direct line of sight
- Seeing the same object in different sizes when viewed with one eye versus the other
A macular pucker is a rare eye condition that sometimes occurs when the vitreous gel that fills the eye shrinks and pulls away from the retina. This shrinking of the gel, known as vitreous detachment, is a normal result of the aging process, but it can also occur in younger people who have had a retinal tear or another type of eye injury.
Some people who experience vitreous detachment may develop a wrinkled membrane on the surface of the retina. If this happens to a part of the membrane covering the macula, it can cause a macular pucker.
Macular pucker symptoms are similar to those of other macular conditions, but they typically affect only one eye and start out as mild, then worsen slowly. While some people can adapt to the visual changes caused by this macular condition, it’s important to discuss them with your eye doctor because, if untreated, a macular pucker can lead to severe vision loss.
A macular hole is an opening that forms in the macula, usually as a result of changes to the eye due to aging. Macular holes typically affect only one eye, which means people who have this condition can often compensate for the deterioration of their vision by using the other eye. What’s more, the initial symptoms—which are similar to those of other macular conditions—are usually mild and gradually grow worse.
Macular Eye Disease Treatment Options
Treatment options for macular disease depend on many factors, including what’s causing the condition, how much it’s affecting your vision, and the risk for increasing vision loss. In some cases, treatment may be as simple as increasing the number of eye exams you receive so your ophthalmologist can closely monitor your macular condition. Your doctor may also recommend dietary and other lifestyle changes that can help slow the progression of your macular eye disease.
On the other hand, your ophthalmologist might recommend treating your macular condition with surgery or photodynamic therapy. Here’s a brief description of these treatments:
This is a type of outpatient surgery in which an ophthalmologist withdraws some or all of the vitreous gel from the middle of the eye to allow removal of a membrane that’s causing macular pucker or to seal a macular hole. The surgeon then replaces the vitreous gel with either a saline solution or a bubble made of gas or oil. During post-surgery healing, the eye produces a natural fluid that replaces the saline solution or the bubble.
In some cases, vitrectomy may also be recommended to treat macular edema.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
This outpatient procedure is sometimes recommended to slow the progression of wet macular degeneration. When performing PDT, an eye specialist uses a laser and a special medication that becomes active when exposed to a certain type of light. The medicine collects in the abnormal blood vessels that are leaking into the macula. Then, when the eye doctor shines a laser into the eye, the light activates the medicine to create blood clots in the abnormal blood vessels, thus sealing them to prevent leaking.
The experienced ophthalmologists at Florida Medical Clinic treat macular diseases and many other eye conditions at our locations in Land O’ Lakes, New Tampa, North Tampa, and Zephyrhills. Click here to request an appointment.
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