Symptoms of the disease typically begin after age 50.

The macula is the most sensitive part of the retina and necessary for sharp vision. As the name of the disease implies, macular degeneration causes damage to this area and is also a leading cause of vision loss for those 50 and older, according to the National Eye Institute. While it’s a common condition, many people have questions or misconceptions about the disease, said Dr. Igor Westra, a retina specialist with Retina of Coastal Carolina, which has four regional locations.

1. It’s an inherited disease.

“This isn’t something you catch,” Dr. Westra said. “It’s something that develops and it rears its ugly head later in life.” The disease may progress slowly or quickly, depending on the individual and the circumstances. As it progresses, you may notice a blurred area near the center of vision that can grow larger over time, according to the NEI. While it is inherited, certain lifestyle choices, like smoking, can worsen the disease.

2. Symptoms may begin after age 50.

“That’s when people start noticing problems,” Dr. Westra said. It’s also when doctors are able to see possible damage during eye exams. As the disease progresses, it can happen in two stages -- the dry stage and the wet stage, Dr. Westra said. During the dry stage, waste products begin to accumulate in the back of the eye and during the wet stage blood vessels grow into the area and can cause further damage and swelling, reports the NEI. Getting a diagnosis early, and having your vision monitored, is a good way to make sure you retain as much vision as possible.

3. Treatment is limited.

While there isn’t a current treatment available for the dry stage, Dr. Westra said, there are options for the wet stage. Doctors can administer injections to the eye, for example. It’s ongoing, and patients may have to come to the office every four to 12 weeks, he said. “But we try to make it as quick and painless as possible.”

4. Doctors are starting to get a better understanding of its prevalence.

Macular degeneration affects more than 1.75 million individuals in the United States, according to the NEI, and as the population ages, that number is projected to be almost 3 million by 2020.

“It’s not that it’s an epidemic,” Dr. Westra said. “It’s more that we are better at recognizing what is happening.” One reason is that people are living longer, he said. And decades ago, patients may have been much more likely to accept vision loss as a normal part of aging. “Now people want to remain healthy and active.”

5. More research is in the works.

“There are many studies about various diets and many other aspects,” Dr. Westra said. As medicine and research advances, we will likely learn more about macular degeneration. “The retina is very specialized. My career is devoted to one square inch of the body.” While genes play a role in the disease, there is no current genetic tests that can diagnose the condition, according to the NEI, although people may see offers for such. Regular exams and talking with your doctor are a better option.