In this particular episode of Ask an Eye Doc, you will learn:
- What the macula does
- What blindness from macular degeneration is like
This episode will make more sense if you’ve already listened to episode 7: “What is the retina?”
For you readers out there, here’s the answer in written form:
In order to understand macular degeneration, you’ll first need to know what the retina is. If you haven’t already listened to episode 7 “What is the retina?” I would encourage you to do so now, since that will lay the ground work on understanding macular degeneration.
As I mentioned in episode 7, different parts of the retina correspond to different parts of your vision. The macula is simply the central part of your retina and corresponds to your straight ahead vision (as opposed to your peripheral or side vision).
Anywhere you look, you are using your macula. When you point your eyes at an object, your macula is pointed right at the object. Basically, the macula takes care of the most important part of your vision.
The macula is different from the rest of the retina because it has a high concentration of photoreceptors (microscopic light detectors) called cones. The high concentration of cones makes it so you can see very fine detail as well as color vision, which is something you definitely want out of your straight ahead vision.
Macular degeneration is an eye disease where the macula slowly deteriorates over time. It usually affects people in their 70’s and 80’s, but certain forms can occur much earlier than that. In the early stages of macular degeneration, you might start to notice blurred or distorted vision, even if you’re wearing an updated pair of glasses or contact lenses.
In the advanced stages of macular degeneration you can no longer see straight ahead. This makes it very difficult to read and recognize faces. It also makes it unsafe (and illegal) to drive. While this is a form of blindness, it’s not total blindness since you still have your peripheral retina keeping your side vision in tact.
My grandfather had advanced macular degeneration. I remember when it got to the point where he could not tell who I was even when he was looking right at me. (He knew who I was only when I started talking). He didn’t have any problem walking around, but his straight-ahead vision was just not there anymore.
Three big risk factors for macular degeneration are smoking, family history, and age. Regardless of how many of these risk factors you have, I recommend you have a yearly eye exam, which includes an evaluation of your macula. If you haven’t had your macula checked in the last year, schedule an appointment with your local optometrist.