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Macular degeneration
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Macular degeneration

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Macular degeneration is a leading cause of blindness. Age-related macular degeneration is a chronic eye disease that occurs when tissue in the macula, the part of your retina that's responsible for central vision, deteriorates. The retina is the layer of tissue on the inside back wall of your eyeball. Degeneration of the macula results in blurred central vision or a blind spot in the center of your visual field.

The first sign of macular degeneration may be a need for more light when you do close-up work. Fine newsprint may become harder to read and street signs more difficult to recognize. Eventually you may notice that when you're looking at an object, what should be a smooth, straight line appears distorted or crooked. Gray or blank spots may mask the center of your visual field. The condition may progress rapidly, leading to severe vision loss in one or both eyes.

Macular degeneration affects your central vision, but not your peripheral vision; thus it doesn't cause total blindness. Still, the loss of clear central vision - critical for reading, driving, recognizing people's faces and doing detail work - greatly affects your quality of life. In most cases the damage caused by macular degeneration can't be reversed, but early detection may help reduce the extent of vision loss.

Coping skills

Macular degeneration doesn't affect your side (peripheral) vision and usually doesn't cause total blindness. But it can rob you of your central vision — which is important for driving, reading and recognizing people's faces.

Yet there are ways to cope with impaired vision. Below are a few suggestions:

  • Avoid driving at night, in heavy traffic, in bad weather or on a freeway.

  • Use public transportation or ask family members to help with night driving.

  • Contact your local area agency on aging for a list of vans and shuttles, volunteer driving networks or ride shares.

  • Optimize the vision you have with the right glasses, and keep an extra pair in the car.

  • Use magnifiers and large-print books and magazines to help you read. On the Internet, look for sites that use large-sized type fonts. Also, check for appliances — such as clocks, radios and telephones — with extra-large numbers.

  • Have proper light in your home for reading and other activities.

  • Eliminate throw rugs and other tripping hazards in your home.

  • Tell friends and family members about your vision problems so they can help you perform certain tasks and help you recognize people.

  • Don't become socially isolated. A common frustration of people with macular degeneration is the inability to recognize other people and greet them by name. If this happens to you, try asking people you know to say hi and tell you their name when you meet them on the street or in other situations, so you can greet them back.

  • Take advantage of online networks, support groups and resources for people with macular degeneration.

  • Ask your doctor about receiving professional help to make your home safer and more convenient for you to use.

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