The eye is shaped just like a ball. The pupil, close to the front, is the opening, which allows light to enter the eye. Just behind the pupil is the lens, which focuses the light on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is made up of a delicate tissue, which converts the light into images, and sends them to the brain. The macula is a small area at the very centre of the retina. The macula is very important and is responsible for what we see straight in front of us, allowing us to see fine detail for activities such as reading and writing, as well as our ability to see colour.What is macular degeneration? Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working, and there are many different conditions, which can cause this. If it occurs later in life, it is called the ‘ age-related macular degeneration’. Unfortunately, we do not yet know why this happens. There are two main types of macular degeneration, usually referred to as ‘wet’ and ‘dry’.
This is not a description of what the eye feels like, but what the eye specialist can see when looking at the macula. Only 10% of people with macular degeneration have the ‘wet’ type, all others are affected by the ‘dry’ type. ‘Wet’ macular degeneration results in a build-up of fluid under the retina. This causes bleeding and scarring which leads to sight loss. It can progress rapidly, normally within a few months, and sometimes responds to laser treatment in the early stages. ‘Dry’ macula degeneration usually develops slowly, often over years, and there is as yet no treatment. Many people find that the visual cells simply cease to function, like colours fading in an old photograph. Macula degeneration usually involves both eyes, although one may be affected long before the other.
This sometimes, makes the condition difficult to notice at first because the sight in the ‘good’ eye is compensating for the loss of the sight in the affected eye. You cannot wear out your sight, so do not be afraid to continue to use the ‘good’ eye as normal. The good news is that macula degeneration is not painful, and almost never leads to total blindness. It is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60 but rarely leads to complete sight loss as only the central vision is affected.