What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is an age-related eye disorder that affects an estimated 4 million people in the UK.
It is characterised by the partial loss of vision, notably in the centre of the visual field and it has no known cure. The condition does not cause complete sight loss, instead, it causes all but the peripheral vision to be lost.
Patients are more likely to experience macular degeneration over the age of 60, though it can appear rarely in younger patients.
Symptoms of macular degeneration
Often the first sign of the condition is slightly blurred or distorted vision, especially in the centre of the eye.
Black spots or patches may block vision entirely, or straight lines may appear to bend and curve.
Many people first notice the issue when trying to read, as macular degeneration affects the perception of lines.
Colours may appear less bright or it may become harder to read signs and menus and recognise faces.
In rare cases, the brain tries to compensate for the lost vision by filling in the gaps - causing visual hallucinations.
The symptoms of macular degeneration can be extremely worrying for the patient, who may fear they are losing their sight entirely.
However, it is very rare that the condition would cause total sight loss and there are treatment methods which can improve or maintain sight in a sufferer.
Diagnosing macular degeneration
The most frequently used diagnostic method for this eye condition is the Amsler grid, designed by an ophthalmologist to detect macular disease in patients.
Where a healthy eye sees the simple grid with straight lines and clear boxes, a patient with a macular condition will experience bending and distortion of the lines. Some parts of the grid may be absent entirely.
As well as determining the presence of a macular condition, the grid helps the eye specialist work out how much of the visual field is affected.
Remedies for macular degeneration
There is no cure for the condition and it does tend to worsen over time. However, special lenses can improve the peripheral vision to compensate for the central sight loss and patients can re-learn how to use their eyes to read, watch TV and recognise faces.
There is a form of macular degeneration known as 'wet AMD', which is less common but can be treated to some extent. Injections into the eye can prevent further sight loss in the short term, preserving what sight remains.
To better understand your own macular condition and to discover if treatment is possible, see an eye specialist as soon as possible.