Macula

Overview

What is the macula of the eye?

The macula is the part of your eye that processes what you see directly in front of you (your central vision). It’s part of your retina and is key to your vision.

The macula is the round area at the center of your retina, at the back of your eyeball.

Function

What does the macula do?

The macula (like the rest of your retina) translates light that enters your eye into the images you see. It’s responsible for your central vision that lets you see objects directly in front of you.

Light passes through the lens at the front of your eye and hits the retina. Photoreceptors — cells inside your retina that react to light — change light energy into an electrical signal. This signal travels through your optic nerve and into your brain to become the picture of the world you see.

Your macula handles the most specific parts of images directly in front of you. It helps you understand specific details like:

  • Text on a page.
  • Telling the difference between faces.
  • Tiny movements.
  • Specific colors.

How does the macula help your eye function?

The macula lets you see small details and focus on very specific aspects of what you’re looking at. Like the rest of your retina, the macula converts light into a signal your brain and process and understand.

If your whole retina processes information like a spray from a garden hose, then your macula is an eye dropper that focuses on a very specific amount of information (the small details and what’s right in front of you).

Without a macula — or with a damaged macula — your eye might still function (it would still take in light), but your vision would be blurry and lack details.

Anything affecting your macula can cause your vision to get worse. That’s why you should see your healthcare provider right away if your eyes or vision suddenly change.

Anatomy

Where is the macula located in the eye?

The macula is the center of your retina, the thin layer at the back of your eye. It’s a round, yellow spot that has a slight oval shape. Most people’s macula is only 5 millimeters (less than 1/4 of an inch) wide.

What is it made of?

The macula (and the rest of your retina) is made of photoreceptor cells.

Rods are photoreceptors that process black and white light. They also help you see at night and in dim light. Cones process color and make up most of your usual vision. Both types of cells work together to give a clear, accurate picture of what you’re seeing.

The macula has a high concentration of cones, which help you process the details in your vision.

Conditions and Disorders

What are the common conditions and disorders that affect the macula?

The macula can be affected by any condition that damages your eye. Conditions that specifically affect the macula include:

Issues that affect your whole retina can harm your macula as well, including:

What are the signs or symptoms of problems with my macula?

Talk to your healthcare provider if you notice any symptoms in your eyes, including:

  • Blurry vision.
  • Double vision (diplopia).
  • New pain that doesn’t go away in a few days.
  • Light sensitivity.
  • Your vision is getting noticeably worse.

What tests are done on the macula?

Your provider will check your maculae as part of your overall eye exam. Usually, they’ll need to examine your macula with an ophthalmoscope, a special tool that lets them see into your eye and examine all its parts.

Care

How do I take care of my macula?

Tell your healthcare provider about any changes in your vision. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, have your eyes examined regularly so your provider can adjust your prescription as often as necessary.

Make sure you’re wearing proper eye protection for any sport or activity that could cause an eye injury. Wearing sun protection and taking care of your overall health can help take care of your macula as well.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

See your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any changes in your vision. Whether it’s something as simple as needing new glasses, or a more serious condition, don’t wait for symptoms to get worse before having your eyes checked.

Go to the emergency room if you suddenly lose your vision or have severe eye pain.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

The macula is a tiny part of an already small piece inside your eye, but it plays a huge role in your ability to see clearly. You use it constantly, whether or not you’ve ever thought about it.

Get your eyes examined regularly to make sure your macula (and the rest of your eye) is healthy. Visit your provider as soon as you notice any changes in your eyes. Even a little change can be a sign of something that might affect your vision later on.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/25/2022.

References

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology. Eye anatomy: parts of the eye and how we see. (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/anatomy/parts-of-eye) Accessed 5/25/2022.
  • Macular Society. What is the macula? (https://www.macularsociety.org/macular-disease/macula/) Accessed 5/25/2022.
  • MedlinePlus. Macula lutea. (https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002252.htm) Accessed 5/25/2022.
  • StatPearls. Neuroanatomy, retina. (https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/888) Accessed 5/25/2022.

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