JulEYE – Eye Health Awareness Campaign: Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration:

Macular degeneration is a degenerative disease affecting the area of the retina used for central vision (the macula). Macular degeneration can cause a progressive, painless loss of central vision. Macular degeneration is often also referred to as age-related macular degeneration, because it is more likely to affect older people.

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and major vision loss in Australia. In Australia, macular degeneration affects one in seven adults over the age of 50. This equates to about 1.15 million people in Australia alone.

There are two types of macular degeneration:

  1. Dry Macular degeneration. Dry macular degeneration, also known as atrophic macular degeneration, occurs when retinal cells start to die. This is the slower form of the disease, and causes a gradual loss of vision.
  2. Wet macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration, also known as exudative macular degeneration, occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to grow into the retina. Because these new blood vessels are fragile, they leak blood, leading to scarring and vision loss. Wet macular degeneration can cause rapid loss of central vision.

How do I know if I have macular degeneration?

Early macular degeneration can be asymptomatic, so having regular eye examinations is important.

Some symptoms people experience with macular degeneration include: Difficulty with reading, or tasks that require fine vision, a distortion where straight lines can appear wavy or bent, difficulty recognising or distinguishing faces, and dark patches in the central vision.

Having regular eye checks with your ophthalmologist will ensure any changes in the retina or macula are detected early. In order to check the macula, your ophthalmologist will enlarge, or dilate the pupils so that he/she can have a detailed look at the health of the retina and macula. Your ophthalmologist may also take photographs or scans of the retina and macula using a machine called an optical coherence tomographer, or OCT.

How can I prevent macular degeneration?

There are certain risk factors which increase the likelihood of the development of macular degeneration. These risk factors include having a family history of macular degeneration, smoking, and age.

Having regular eye checks with your ophthalmologist will alert you to any early changes in the retina and macula. Early detection of macular degeneration is vital in preserving eyesight. Your ophthalmologist may give you an “Amsler chart” to take home to monitor any vision changes.

Research indicates that maintaining a healthy lifestyle, eating a well-balanced diet and not smoking can be protective for macular health.

The macular degeneration foundation currently recommends eating a well-balanced diet including fish two to three times per week, dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit every day, along with a handful of nuts per week. Limiting the intake of dietary fats may also be protective for the macula. Further information about nutrition for macular degeneration can be found on this handy information sheet from the macular disease foundation: http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/resources/1/factsheets/NandS_Feb_2014_web.pdf

How is macular degeneration treated?

Treatment options for macular degeneration depend on the type of macular degeneration. There is currently no treatment available for dry macular degeneration other than vitamin supplements which have been proven in the AREDS and AREDS2 studies to slow the progression of certain types of dry macular degeneration. There are several treatment options for wet macular degeneration. These treatments do not cure the disease, but aim to slow or stop the disease progression, and maintain the best possible vision for as long as possible. Typically intravitreal injections of anti-endothelial growth factor agents are used as the first line treatment for wet (neovascular) age related macular degeneration.

For further information on macular degeneration, contact the macular disease foundation of Australia by phoning 1800 111 709 or visit their website at www.mdfoundation.com.au

If you would like your macular health checked, please phone Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists and book an appointment with our retinal specialist, Dr Daniel Polya. Phone Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists on (02) 9241 2913.

Our next article as part of the eye health awareness campaign of JulEYE will be on Diabetic Retinopathy.