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What Is Macular Degeneration?

Everything you need to know about this complex eye condition, which causes a loss of vision in the center of the eye.

If you’ve been lucky enough to have problem-free vision your entire life, it can be easy to take healthy eyes for granted. However, as we age, our vision starts to change—whether that means suddenly needing reading glasses or becoming more sensitive to light and glare. And as you get older, your eyes also become more and more susceptible to a number of conditions, such as cataracts, diabetic eye disease, low vision, and glaucoma.

Another common age-related condition is macular degeneration, a disease that affects more than 10 million Americans, and, according to the National Eye Institute is the leading cause of vision loss among people over 50. Still, despite its prevalence, there’s still a lot of confusion about macular degeneration. To suss out the facts, we spoke with Yasha Modi, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor in Ophthalmology at NYU Langone New York City, to answer common questions and learn crucial info about the eye condition.

What exactly is macular degeneration?

Put simply, when you hear about macular degeneration, people are generally talking about age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This refers to the breakdown of the central part of the retina, called the macula, which is responsible for the sharpest vision.

“Even though these patients never end up completely blind, they end up with central blind spots which severely limit their vision and daily function as well,” says Dr. Modi. “They have to rely on their peripheral vision, which requires a re-education on how to open bottles, navigate through doorways, and a number of everyday things that we otherwise take for granted.” And people with more advanced AMD often lose the ability to read, drive, see details, and recognize faces and colors.

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