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WHAT IS MACULAR DEGENERATION?

Although diabetic retinopathy is the biggest producer of blindness in working-age Americans, it is certainly not the only one, and, as people grow older, they become more at risk for other sight-destroying conditions, whether they have diabetes or not. One of the most common is age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The macula is the central part of the retina, the area of light-sensitive cells most capable of sharp focus -- the part we most often use to see. When it weakens, when it is damaged, we may be unable to read, to distinguish one face from another, to use sight for our daily tasks. And, there is no cure for AMD.

There are two types of AMD, called "dry" and "wet." "Dry" AMD causes a steady degeneration of the cells of the macula, with corresponding gradual loss of acute vision. The presence of dry AMD raises the risk of the more virulent "wet" type.

Similar to proliferative retinopathy in some respects, "wet" AMD causes the growth of tiny, fragile blood vessels where they don't belong, in this case just beneath the retina. As with retinopathy, these vessels frequently rupture and bleed -- in this case into the retinal tissue, causing sudden and severe vision loss at the center of the field of vision. Because of the location of the "bleeders," laser surgery is less successful as a treatment than with retinopathy.

The best thing you can do with age-related macular degeneration is avoid it. Wear sunglasses when the sun is bright, don't smoke, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol within healthy normal ranges, and avoid obesity. New research suggests a diet rich in vegetables and fruits can help, as can a regular use of a good multi-vitamin supplement.

And, have regular eye examinations. It's a good idea!