Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. It is estimated that in Australia one in seven people over the age of 50 are affected by macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because it is most commonly found in people over 50, and because the percentage of people affected increases with age.
The macular is the central part of the retina and is responsible for seeing things in detail and for colour perception. If the macular is damaged then vision becomes blurry and there maybe blind spots in the centre of what a person can normally see, making everyday tasks like reading and being able to see people’s faces, difficult.
Local optometrist Max Astri, said that macular degeneration results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. “Someone who has a direct family member with macular degeneration has a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease, while smokers are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration and develop it at an earlier age,” he said.
According to Max, many people don’t realise they have the disease until it’s quite advanced as the disease is painless and vision loss is often gradual. “Difficulty in reading, any distortions in vision such as seeing wavy lines when lines are straight, or having dark, blind spots in the centre of your vision, as well as sudden changes to your vision, should always be investigated as soon as possible,” he said.
Optometrist Alek Sims said early diagnosis was important to minimise vision loss, and recommends everyone have their eyes examined regularly. “Eye examinations are not just about getting glasses. Regular comprehensive, dilated examinations allow your optometrist to check your eyes for any early signs of eye disease. Early detection gives patients the best possible chance of minimising vision loss,” he said.
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There are two main vtypes of macular degeneration. The most common is dry macular degeneration which develops slowly and vision loss is gradual. The second, and most serious, is wet macular degeneration and generally develops quickly. Wet degeneration is the result of abnormal blood vessels leaking blood and fluid under the macular resulting in scarring and vision loss.
At present there is no treatment available for dry degeneration, however there is for wet degeneration. Max said the treatment most commonly used is a drug called Lucentis which is injected into the eye. “Injections are performed by an ophthalmologist who determines how frequently the injections are needed to best stabilise a patients macular degeneration,” he said.