Understanding Macular Conditions and Symptoms
At the center of the retina is a pigmented area known as the macula, which controls the central vision of our eyes. Central vision plays a crucial role in our daily lives, giving us the ability to see fine details, drive, read, recognize faces, perceive color, and more. Just like the rest of the retina, the macula is extremely delicate and vulnerable to a number of conditions.
Types of Macular Conditions
The most common macular condition is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the leading cause of blindness in older adults in the US. Other macular conditions include macular edema, macular holes, and epiretinal membranes (also known as macular puckers).
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD is a condition in which the macula deteriorates due to the photoreceptor cells in the retina breaking down over time. The waste products of these cells, known as drusen, accumulate under the retina and block the retinal and macular cells from receiving proper nutrition.
AMD is split into two categories – dry and wet AMD. Dry AMD accounts for the vast majority of cases and is diagnosed by the presence and size of drusen levels. At the earliest stages, many patients with dry AMD experience no symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms become more severe. Dry AMD can lead to wet AMD, which is when abnormal blood vessels develop in the retina and leak fluids into the macula. This impedes the macula’s function and can lead to permanent loss of vision.
Macular edema is characterized by leaking fluids from abnormal ocular blood vessels causing swelling in the macula. Macular edema is commonly associated with diabetes, but there are several other conditions that also are risk factors, including:
- Retinal vein occlusion
- Hereditary retinal conditions
Macular holes occur when a tear forms in the macula. It is often caused by posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), which is when the vitreous gel fluid inside the eye diminishes and pulls back from the retina. Although PVD is a normal part of aging and often doesn’t cause any issues, the vitreous gel sometimes adheres to the retina and, as the gel shrinks, pulls the retina. This pulling action can put stress on the macula and result in a tear.
Epiretinal membranes, commonly known as macular puckers, are characterized by the formation of scar tissue on the macula, which usually develops as a result of vitreous fluid tugging on the macula. Risk factors include traumatic injuries, inflammation, retinal tear or detachment, cataract surgery, diabetes, or uveitis.
Macular Condition Symptoms
Because the macula is so specialized, many of these conditions present with similar symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
- Distorted and blurry vision
- Eye flashes and floaters
- A shadowy area in the center of vision
- Difficulty seeing in fine detail or carrying out tasks that require fine detail vision (driving, reading, etc.)
- Changes in color perception
To learn more about macular conditions, symptoms, risk factors, and treatments in the Austin, Texas, area, contact Austin Retina Associates today.