What is Glenn Beck’s macular dystrophy?

During a recent speech from his American Revival tour, Glenn Beck, 46, announced that he has an eye condition called macular dystrophy that could cause him to go blind. Speaking in front of a large group at his “Revival America” tour, the Fox News pundit told the crowd:

“A couple of weeks ago I went to the doctor because of my eyes, I can’t focus my eyes…he did all kinds of tests and he said, ‘you have macular dystrophy …you could go blind in the next year. Or, you might not.”

The term “macular dystrophy” can be confusing because, according to Dr. Robert Enzenauer, macular dystrophy is a disease of the cornea of the eye whereas “macula” is a term that refers to the retina.

The macula is an oval-shaped highly pigmented yellow spot located in the center of the retina,  which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.  Near its center is the fovea, a small pit that contains the largest concentration of cone cells in the eye and is responsible for central vision. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. The retina then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving.

AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.

In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older. For more information about this disease, see the two links below.

Genetic forms of macular dystrophy are much rarer than AMD. Two main genetic forms of macular dystrophy are Best’s vitelliform macular dystrophy and Stargart’s Disease. Best vitelliform macular dystrophy is a genetic form of macular degeneration that usually begins in childhood or adolescence and slowly progresses to affect central vision. Individuals typically retain normal peripheral vision and the ability to adapt to the dark.  The age of onset and severity of vision loss are highly variable. There is no specific treatment for vitelliform macular dystrophy at this time.

Stargart’s Disease is the most prevalent hereditary macular degenerative disease, occurring in about 1 in 10,000 people. It most commonly affects people under the age of twenty, starting with symptoms of difficulty in reading and seeing in dim lighting. However the disease can also occur later in life with a slower progression of symptoms. Eventually, all patients with Stargardt disease are expected to have vision between 20/200 and 20/400 (normal vision, of course, is 20/20).

Michele Berman is a pediatrician who blogs at Celebrity Diagnosis.

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  • PAULMD

    I am a retinal surgeon. I cannot find a straight answer as to what the diagnosis is. It is not a corneal issue if it is in fact a macula dystrophy which involves the retina.

    Best’s Vitelliform Dystrophy or Stargart’s Dystrophy or its variant, Fundus Flavimaculatus, are the predominant macula dystrophies especially in otherwise healthy folks his age. There are other macula dystrophies spanning a wide spectrum (Cone dystrophy) all the way to ocult macula dystrophy which has no anatomical finding but severe electrical suppression of the macula and severe vision loss.

    It would be helpful to have the correct diagnosis but I cannot find a reliable source when I “google” the issue. Any help?

  • http://www.ohioterminsurance.com Ed H

    My work associate’s mother was diagnosed with this about 8 months ago. She received treatment (no surgery) and is reportedly seeing “better” in that eye.

    I don’t think she even knows what she had or has now!

  • doc99

    Whatever the diagnosis, I wish Mr. Beck well.

  • gzuckier

    Well, without malice towards Mr. Beck, is it surprising that he might say something in public that turns out to be not perfectly accurate?