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Will I suffer failing eyesight? Ask the Doc.

Byline: Dr James Briscoe

Q My father was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration causing his failing eyesight. What causes this condition, is it hereditary and what can he do to minimise his deteriorating eyesight?

MARK, West Bromwich.

A Macular degeneration is the name given to a condition that affects part of the retina called the macula.

It is located at the back of the eye, right at the centre of the retina.

The macula enables us to see what's directly in front of us and allows us to see fine detail. It plays a vital role in helping people to read, write, drive and perform other detailed tasks as well as enabling us to recognise faces and see colour.

There are two types of macular degeneration, known as 'dry' and 'wet'.

Dry MD is the most common form of the condition and occurs when cells in the retina fail to function properly as a person gets older.

This happens because the cells don't take in enough vital nutrients and fail to clear by-products of cell functioning. This causes tiny abnormal deposits to be left under the retina, making it uneven.

In time, retinal cells degenerate and die causing sight loss. This occurs very gradually over many years.

Wet MD accounts for about 10 per cent of cases. It often develops quickly and involves the growth of new blood vessels behind the retina.

These new blood vessels are very fragile and so may leak fluid or blood. This results in scarring that causes rapid visual loss.

It is unclear what causes macular degeneration. We do know that it becomes more likely as a person ages because, over time, the cells in the macula become damaged and worn out. As people are living longer, the incidence of macular degeneration will inevitably increase.

However, there does also appear to be a genetic influence that significantly increases the risk of developing macular degeneration, particularly if other risk factors are present.

In macular degeneration, both eyes are usually affected, although one eye may be affected before the other. The good eye usually compensates for the affected eye and for many years this can disguise the fact that there's a problem. There is no pain or redness of the eyes.

Because it is central vision that's affected, patients retain some residual vision, but this is at the periphery of their field of vision where images aren't in focus.

Currently, there is no medical treatment for dry macular degeneration. However, not smoking and eating a healthy diet may help to slow the rate of deterioration.

Additional lighting and magnifiers can help those with dry macular degeneration to make better use of their residual sight.

Medical breakthroughs in the treatment of wet macular degeneration mean that, in most cases, treatments can prevent further visual loss, and in some cases restore partial sight.

If YOU have a question about health and wellbeing, write to: Ask the Doc, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY, or e-mail
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Nov 11, 2007
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