What is the Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a common eye condition, usually related to ageing, and often called ‘age-related macular degeneration’ or ‘AMD.’
About one in seven (1.4 million) Australians over the age of 50 years have some evidence of age-related macular degeneration AMD.
What is the macula?
The macula is a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the centre of the retina, which is at the back of your eye. The macula is responsible for most of our colour vision as well as our detailed central vision.
When we look at something directly, light is focused onto our macula, where millions of cells change the light into nerve signals that tell the brain what our eye is seeing. This is called ‘central vision’. If the macula degenerates, blind-spots and blurred or distorted central vision occurs. Often, peripheral vision is preserved because the surrounding retina can still be used, but it is not as sensitive as the macula.
What are the stages of AMD?
Macular degeneration is classified into three stages: early AMD, intermediate AMD and late AMD.
Late AMD is further divided into two classifications: neovascular, sometimes called wet macular degeneration (wet AMD) and atrophic, sometimes called dry macular degeneration (dry AMD).
In the early stages of having AMD, macular degeneration does not affect vision, but as it progresses, people experience wavy or blurred vision.
The early and intermediate stages of AMD are the best times to detect the disease. If AMD continues to worsen, there may be central vision loss, and often the ability to drive, to see faces, and to read small print is lost.
Will there be vision changes?
People with vision loss from age-related macular degeneration look fine. Their eyes appear to be just like they always were; because their peripheral vision is preserved, they can walk around with little or no difficulty. The late-stage ability to see peripherally, but not to see the very thing in front of you is confusing to others.
We tend to think of people as either ‘blind’ or ‘not blind.’ People with vision loss from age-related macular degeneration are better understood to ‘have low vision.’ At the late stage, people with AMD are considered ‘legally blind,’ although they still have some peripheral vision.
What are the risk factors of AMD?
Some of the risk factors for AMD are out of our control. Age: the older you get, the more likely you are to get AMD. Genetics: a family history of AMD means you are more likely to get it as well. There are some factors that are under our control, these are called ‘modifiable’. These are things like diet, frequently exposing our eyes to sunlight without eye protection, obesity and, most of all, smoking.
Does smoking impact my eyes?
Even the most dedicated smokers are aware that the habit is bad for their lungs, but few realise the impact smoking has on their eyes. The truth is, smoking is the strongest modifiable risk factor for AMD. Smoking at least doubles the risk of AMD. Even more, studies show that there is a direct correlation between the number of cigarettes a person has smoked during their life and their risk of late stage AMD.
What will the eye doctor do?
If you are 50 years or older, you should have an eye examination once every two years. Those over 65 should have eye exams annually.
Your optometrist will use an eye drop to dilate your pupil then use a special lens to examine your retina or macula. Your optometrist may ask you to look at an Amsler grid. This grid helps you notice any blurry, distorted or blank spots in your field of vision.
They may also take a digital photograph or take an optical coherence tomography scan of your macula (OCT), for comparison at your next eye exam.
Depending on your condition, your Eyecare Plus optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist for further examination, or request follow up visits so they can monitor your condition.
What are the treatment options?
There is no cure for AMD, and although there are treatments that can slow progression of the disease, once the vision is lost, it can’t be returned. Early detection, along with healthy lifestyle choices are still the best option for lowering your risk of AMD.
For more information
To learn more about how to care for your macula, speak with your local eye doctor (optometrist).
Your Eyecare Plus optometrist will provide you with eye health information, speak with you about the types of age related macular degeneration and how macular degeneration affects you long term.
Two other helpful organisations are the Macular Disease Foundation and Vision Australia.
The Macular Disease Foundation Australia is the national organisation that represents the interests of Australians living with, or at risk of, macular disease. It is an independent, patient-centred and trustworthy source of information.
Vision Australia provides low vision services and support to people who are blind or have low vision live the life they want.