Macular Disease Foundation Australia logo

About macular disease

What is macular disease?

Macular disease covers a range of painless conditions affecting the central retina (the macula), which is at the back of the eye.

Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia.

An estimated 1.9 million Australians have some evidence of macular disease.

So what is the macula?

It might first help to understand how your eye works.

Your eye is very much like an old-style film camera. The front of your eye is made up of the cornea, iris, pupil and lens. These work together to focus an image onto the retina, which lines the back of your eye. The retina is a light-sensitive tissue that acts like the film in a camera. It captures images and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve. Our brain then interprets the images for us.

A diagram of the eye showing the iris, cornea, lens, retina and optic nerve.
Image is a diagram of the macula, showing its placement at the back of the eye. The diagram also points out the location of the retina and choroid in the eye.

The macula is the name given to the area at the centre of the retina, at the back of your eye.

This region is only about 5.5mm in diameter.

The macula is responsible for detailed central vision. That means you use it for activities such as reading, driving and recognising faces. It’s also responsible for most of your colour vision.

The rest of the retina is called the peripheral retina. Peripheral vision (or side vision) isn’t as clear as central vision. It’s used to see general shapes and surroundings.

Symptoms of macular disease

Conditions only affecting the macula don’t lead to total (‘black’) blindness. Instead, they impact central vision, leaving peripheral vision intact.

You can have early signs of macular disease without knowing it. However, when symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • difficulty with reading or any other activity which requires detailed central vision (despite wearing appropriate glasses)
  • distortion, where straight lines may appear wavy or bent
  • problems distinguishing faces
  • dark patches in the central vision.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult an eye health professional. Early detection and prompt intervention are crucial to saving sight.

Image of opera house. The image is distorted so straight lines are bent, to simulate the view seen by someone with macular disease.
Distortion, where straight lines may appear wavy or bent, is a symptom of macular disease.

Common macular diseases

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)

The most common macular disease is age-related macular degeneration. Approximately one in seven Australians over the age of 50 have some evidence of AMD.

Diabetic retinopathy (DR) and diabetic macular oedema (DMO)

DR, including DMO, is a common complication of diabetes. It’s the leading cause of preventable blindness in working-aged Australians.

Everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing DR. And the longer someone has diabetes, the greater their chance of developing the condition. 

Other macular diseases

Other common macular diseases include retinal vein occlusion (RVO), myopic macular degeneration and macular telangiectasia (MacTel).

Inherited forms of macular disease include rare diseases that can also impact children and younger people. Some examples of inherited macular diseases include Stargardt disease and Best disease

Other conditions affecting the macula include macular holes, macular pucker (epiretinal membrane), vitreomacular traction syndrome, retinal detachment, and central serous chorioretinopathy.  An eye health professional can manage some of these conditions with surgery or injections. In other cases, they will recommend just monitoring the condition.