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What is the Macula?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The macula is a small component of the eye that helps the organ to perceive visual details clearly. Oval in shape and somewhat yellowish in color, the eye macula is found near the middle area of the retina. When some type of damage occurs to this yellow area, the result is a decrease in the quality of central vision, often referred to as macular degeneration.

Also known as the macular lutea, this yellow spot has a center known as the fovea. The fovea serves as the collection point for the largest amount of cone cells in the eye. It is this concentration of cone cells in the central area that help to determine the quality of central vision for that eye.

The color of the macula is important, because it aids in the proper filtering of light as it enters the eye. This filtering process makes it possible to quickly and efficiently translate the light into visual images that the brain can identify. The yellow hue also helps to function as a sort of natural sunglass for the eye, thus protecting all the different components of the organ from damage in normal sunlight.

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Macular degeneration is the most common form of damage to this section of the eye. Generally, the condition develops over time, gradually decreasing the quality of the central visions. As the damage continues to expand, what is known as a macular hole develops in the central region of the eye. With the expansion of the hole, the central vision becomes less sharp, making it much harder to distinguish details.

However, it is also possible to sustain damage that causes the macula to fail completely and quickly. For example, a head trauma that included a direct blow to the eye could in fact cause the yellow area of the retina to rupture as the layers of ganglion cells are disrupted. The end result is often a permanent decrease in the quality of central vision that can never be regained. Depending on the extent of the damage, the loss of vision may be partial or complete.

When conducting routine eye examinations, both optometrists and ophthalmologists routinely inspect the condition of the macula. If there appears to be any type of breakdown in the efficiency of the yellow spot, it is sometimes possible to take measures that help to slow the deterioration. Different forms of corrective lenses can compensate for some of the damage, allowing the patient to enjoy more detailed sight for at least a time.

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