Macular Degeneration: An Overview

By Lylas G. Mogk, M.D.
Edited by Maureen A. Duffy, M.S., CVRT

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a gradual, progressive, painless deterioration of the macula, the small area in the center of the retina.

The retina is like the film in a camera; it lines the inside of our eyeball and records what we see. The retina is different from the film, however, in that it has only one area that sees details perfectly clearly; that is its center point, the macula.

Damage to that area called the macula affects our detail vision and reduces the clarity of whatever we are looking directly at. This is the vision we use to read, drive, see the television, and do detailed work such as threading a needle, sewing, or crafts.

Simulation of the effects of macular degeneration, with central visual field loss

A simulation of central visual field loss from macular degeneration
Henry Ford Center for Vision Rehabilitation and Research

It also reduces contrast sensitivity – our ability to see objects that are the same tone as their background – so identifying faces and seeing curbs and steps may be difficult. Our peripheral vision, the wide area that includes everything that we are not looking directly at, remains intact so individuals with age-related macular degeneration can see all around the room, for example.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for people aged 60 and older in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), 10-15 million individuals have age-related macular degeneration and about 10% of those affected have the "wet" type of age-related macular degeneration.

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