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Macular degeneration

Problems with central vision

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness for Americans 65 and older.

The condition is caused when the macula, which is the part of the eye's retina that sees fine details, deteriorates or breaks down. The macula can develop other problems, but the most common is age-related degeneration. The macula is responsible for one's central vision. (Another part of the retina is responsible for peripheral vision.)

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Symptoms include distorted or blurry vision and a change in the color vision. Your eye doctor can generally diagnose the disease through having you view a type of grid chart, called the Amsler grid, or doing an exam of the blood vessels around your retina.

Dry macular degeneration, the most common form, is caused when fatty protein deposits form under the retina. The macula tissue also thins. There is no treatment for this form. The disease must be constantly monitored by your eye doctor, and  your doctor should be contacted if you have any change in central vision.

While less common, wet macular degeneration is more damaging. It's caused by abnormal blood vessel growth under the retina. When the vessels leak fluid or blood, one's vision becomes distorted or blurred. Treatments include anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) injections, laser treatments, and photodynamic therapy, which combines drug and laser treatment.

While the aging process is the highest risk factor for developing macular degeneration, some studies indicate other risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, inflammation, abnormal cholesterol and obesity, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.