Abnormal growth of the eye's blood vessels causes the disease, covering key parts of the retina and gradually eliminating portions of vision. Although total loss of sight is rare, eyes can deteriorate to the point where the sufferer is effectively blind from the condition. The disease comes in wet and dry forms, depending on the eyeball's condition.
The National Institute of Health’s National Eye Institute estimates that about 2 million people suffer from the condition, which may increase to 3 million by 2020. Those considered most at risk are people older than age 45 with a family history of the disease.
People who have the dry form of macular degeneration eventually may develop the wet form if too many abnormal vessels proliferate. The dry form of macular degeneration requires a close watch on vision and notifying an ophthalmologist of noticeable changes in vision, such as blind spots growing bigger or new spots that appear. Even with ongoing treatment, new vessels can grow, which is why it is important to have a lifelong schedule of eye appointments to monitor the condition.
The wet form of macular degeneration has been described as one of the leading causes of legal blindness if it appears in one eye. When the condition is present in both eyes, quality of life becomes an issue for sufferers, such as being able to live independently or travel outside the home for daily activities. The good news is that timely treatment not only can slow the condition, but also in many cases, improve vision. As with any disease, early diagnosis is key to treatment. There is no total cure for macular degeneration, but the disease can be delayed with medications that may prevent further deterioration.