What is Macular Degeneration? Basic Retina Anatomy

What is Macular Degeneration? Basic Retina Anatomy

Posted on May.07, 2012, under Low Vision Tips

The Macular Degeneration Foundation reports that two hundred thousand people are diagnosed every year with macular degeneration.  Although more people are becoming familiar with this retinal condition, many people are hearing about it for the first time. Perhaps it’s your mother,  your brother,  your spouse or yourself that has developed age related macular degeneration.

Retina Anatomy

A basic overview of retina anatomy will help you better understand why and how this eye disease affects one’s vision. The best analogy for understanding how the eye works is to compare the eye to a camera. It is the back of the eyeball, the retina, that acts like film in a camera.  The retina is a very thin layer of tissue lining the inside of the eye. In order to have clear and distortion free vision this lining must lie completely flat. Any time the lining is raised because of swelling or fluid, one’s vision becomes altered.  Some common symptoms from a raised area of the retina are blurred vision, objects appearing as odd shaped, or a gray or black spot in one’s vision.

The Macula Lutea

There are several different macular diseases that develop as a result of damage to this tiny portion of the retina. The macula is a small spot, about the size of a pencil eraser, located in the center of the retina. This part of the retina is responsible for detailed, sharp, clear vision.  A healthy macula is what gives a person 20/20 vision. The macula is made up of photoreceptor cells ,specifically cone cells. Abundant and healthy cone cells are needed to give us color vision, clarity of vision and central vision. When these cone cells start to degenerate, meaning no longer functioning optimally, or die, there are less healthy cone cells. With less cone cells, colors are less vivid and vision becomes blurred or distorted.

Layers of the Retina

Why do the photoreceptor cells die? Research is ongoing and is seeking to discover the many biological processes that lead to macular degeneration. However, most eye specialists will agree that the layers of the macula play a critical role in the health of one’s vision.  For those with dry macular degeneration, there is a thinning of the retinal layers while those with wet macular degeneration experience tiny “bleeds” in the macular layers causing the normally flat retina to be raised.

To see pictures of the eye and macular degeneration and to learn how AMD affects one’s vision go to:
Macular Degeneration Pictures

Leslie Degner, RN, BSN
Better Health for Better Vision