August 01, 1999|By Barbara Chuck | Barbara Chuck,Los Angeles Times

If you're older than 50, or if someone close to you is, you may want to learn more about macular degeneration. It's an eye disease that accounts for about 20 percent of vision impairment in people older than 75. There are two types of macular degeneration, in which the macula -- the part of the eye that controls central, detailed vision -- becomes damaged:

Dry. The most common form of this disease is difficult to detect in its early stages because changes in vision often are too subtle to notice. People may notice wavy lines and blank spots in the center of their vision. Colors may look dim. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. People who have dry macular degeneration need to see a doctor regularly because it can turn into the more serious wet type.

Wet. Vision loss is quick and severe. People who have it might notice dark and blank spots, wavy lines and dim colors in the center of their vision. When the problem is diagnosed early, laser treatment can sometimes slow the loss of vision.

To help limit vision loss, it is important to get regular eye exams and monitor your vision to detect early signs of wet macular degeneration. An Amsler grid will help you monitor your condition.

People who suffer from macular degeneration can still do many of the activities they did before the onset of the disease. Vision aids, such as magnifiers, large-faced watches, big-button phones, talking clocks and large-print books, may be helpful.

For more information

The following groups can offer information about vision aids:

* National Federation of the Blind, 410-659-9314.

* Lighthouse International, 800-829-0500.

* National Association for the Visually Handicapped, 212-889-3141.

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