The macula is a place. It is the functional center of the retina. The term macular is an adjective. “Macular” is not a disease.
Too many patients also believe that “macular” and macular degeneration are synonyms. They are not.
Definition – The macula is the most sensitive area of your retina. It is approximately 1.5 mm x 1.5 mm. It provides us with our central vision, best color perception and is the only area of the retina that can “see” 20/20. It contains the photoreceptors called “cones” which provide color vision.
The rest of the retina provides us with our peripheral vision and is less sensitive to colors. The peripheral retina contains the photoreceptors called “rods” and provide sensitivity to light and dark.
The optic nerve is seen in cross section and connects the eye to the brain. Within the optic nerve travel the necessary blood vessels that supply blood to the retina; the retinal veins and arteries.
There are many “macular diseases.” Any condition that affects the macula has the adjective macular attached to it. There are epimacular membranes, macular holes, etc. In these situations, surgery is generally indicated with a high rate of success. Diabetic retinopathy and macular degeneration can both have macular edema develop as part of the disease.
Conditions involving the macula most likely decrease central vision. There may be blurriness and distortion. These are common symptoms of macular diseases although they are commonly thought of as symptoms related only to macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration causes disruption or destruction of the normal healthy macula. There may be physical damage to the actula layers of the retina. In addition, in the “wet” form of the disease, macular edema may develop which further decreases vision.
In most cases of diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema may develop. The symptoms are generally limited to loss of vision. Treatments for diabetic macular edema are aimed at halting the development of more macular edema and possibly resolving the fluid accumulation.
Item Last – Macular degeneration is a specific disease of the macula or retina. Macular edema is commonly found in macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy; common conditions found on this site. There are other diseases that contain the word “macular,” but they, too, refer to specific disease other than macular degeneration. Remember, “Macular” itself is NOT a disease.
Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Ophthalmologist, Retina Specialist