The retina is the layer of tissue in the back of the eye that receives visual information from the world and transmits it to the brain. The macula is a small but extremely sensitive part of the retina that's responsible for our central vision, and ability to read or see finer details. The rest of the retina provides peripheral or side vision.
Macular degeneration occurs when there is a deterioration of the macula caused by aging. Additional risk factors include tobacco smoking and having a family history of the disease. Symptoms of macular degeneration can include blurred or distorted vision, trouble seeing fine details, or a dark spot in the center of your vision.
There are two types of macular degeneration: "dry" and "wet". The majority of people have the dry form, but dry macular degeneration can lead to wet macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels develop and leak blood and/or fluid into the retina. This leaking or bleeding can eventually form a scar and cause permanent central vision loss, if left untreated.
Diagnosis can be made at your eye exam, and there may be additional testing done including painless scans of the macula or special eye photography called fluorescein angiography, in which a special dye highlights the abnormal blood vessels in the retina.
There is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but there is effective treatment for wet macular degeneration using medication injections. For dry macular degeneration, some patients benefit from a formulation of vitamins specifically for the eyes.