(AGE RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION)
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Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease that primarily affects the central portion of the retina known as the macula. The risk for developing macular degeneration increases with age and is in excess of 30% by age 75. Other risk factors include: a family history of the disease, cigarette smoking, and possibly diet, excessive sunlight exposure, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The majority of people with macular degeneration have an early form of the condition and experience minimal visual loss. For many of these people, macular degeneration will not progress to a more serious condition.
In the early stages of macular degeneration, the transport of nutrients and wastes by the RPE slows down. As waste products accumulate under the retina, they form yellowish deposits called drusen.
In the healthy retina, a layer of cells called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) supplies the photoreceptors with nutrients (red arrows). The RPE also pumps out the waste products (blue arrows) created as the photoreceptors convert light into nerve signals.
An eye doctor examining a patient at this stage may note the presence of these drusen, even though most people have no symptoms. When drusen have been noted on examination, monitoring will be needed over time, although most patients will not progress to develop visual loss. Many people over the age of 60 will have some drusen.
A portion of people with drusen may begin to experience mild visual loss. At this point, macular degeneration may progress in one of two ways. These two types of degeneration are known as the dry (atrophic) and the wet (exudative) forms of the disease.