Macular degeneration mainly strikes people over age 50, and it is the leading cause of legal blindness among retired Americans. The landmark symptom of this disease is one or more blank spots in the center of your field of vision. Other symptoms include blurred or distorted vision. If the disease affects only one eye, the patient may not notice it at all. Macular degeneration is not painful, but its onset can be disturbingly sudden.

There are two forms of macular degeneration —"wet" and "dry." Dry macular degeneration is the most common form of the disease. It is a deterioration of the macula, the part of the retina that perceives details. Vision loss can progress over months or years. There is no cure, but vitamin supplements and a diet rich in leafy green vegetables may help slow the disease (for details, consult your eye physician).

Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow under the retina. Bleeding from these vessels can result in vision loss. Some patients with wet macular degeneration can be treated with a special light-activated medication that was tested at the Eye Institute and other research centers. The medication is injected into a vein and eventually circulates to the eye. When a physician "spotlights" an abnormal blood vessel with a low-energy laser, the light activates the medication, which then coagulates the blood and binds the vessel.

At the Eye Institute, patients with macular degeneration receive treatment through our Retina Service. The Institute has participated in several clinical trials of drug therapies for this disease. Faculty members are also experimenting with the implanted macular telescope (IMT) for patients whose vision loss is stable. Actually implanted inside one eyeball, the scope is invisible to others and can help with up-close and distance vision.