Macula degeneration causes progressive, loss of central vision, affecting the ability to drive, recognise faces, read and see fine detail. Age Related Macula Degeneration (ARMD) is the commonest cause of severe visual loss in Australia.
There are two main types of Macula Degeneration - Dry and Wet.
cDry macula degeneration
Dry macula degeneration occurs in 90% of cases. There is a slow fragmented loss of the cells serving central vision rather like old paint flaking off a surface. The process continues over many years and is usually asymmetrical so that one eye preserves better vision than the other
Wet macula degeneration
Wet macula degeneration only acounts for 10% of cases. However, because it has a more aggressive course, it accounts for 90% of the ARMD related legal blindness. "Wet" refers to leakage of fluid, serum or blood, at the normally dry perfectly aligned visual cell layer at the centre of the back of the eye, the macula. Fluid accumulation produces rapid visual blurring and shape distortion. This may be associated with low grade inflammation.
The earlier the disease is detected, and the earlier treatment is instituted, the more vision you are likely to retain.
Although there is no cure for ARMD, there are treatment options that can slow down its progression.
Laser treatment may seal a leak with the result that a wider wet area dries and visual function improves. The laser scar is smaller but permanent.
Laser treatment is usually guided by photographic study of the eye's circulation and leakage - Fluorescein Angiography.
The latest and best treatment for wet macula degeneration is a course of injections of a small amount of special chemical into the vitreous cavity of the eye of appropriate patients. Although this may initially sound invasive, the injections are safe and relatively painless. The chemical used inhibits the growth of abnormal tiny blood vessels that would otherwise grow into, leak and disrupt the important central macular region of the retina. Pleasingly this treatment can stabilise vision in up to 90% of patients, and improved vision is obtained by 30%.
It is vital that this treatment is instituted in a timely manner before the bleeding in the macula is too advanced. It is important to have the macula checked promptly in the event of any sudden distortion or visual loss. A good way of monitoring the macula in people at risk of wet macula degeneration is with the use of an Amsler grid chart.
In a general sense, the measures to reduce ARMD risk are to cease smoking, maintain an excellent blood pressure, eat an adequate balanced diet and have regular eye checks with your eye specialist.