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Degeneration of the macula (central part of the retina), with corresponding visual-field defect. It is the leading cause of blindness in old age. Probably due to reduced blood circulation, it is now known to have a genetic component. It is twice as common in smokers as in nonsmokers, and it is also correlated with lifelong sun exposure. Peripheral vision usually remains, but loss of central visual acuity makes reading or fine work difficult or impossible, even with special magnifying eyeglasses. Some forms of macular degeneration can be halted (but not reversed) by laser surgery.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on macular degeneration, visit Britannica.com.