In May we are urging you to have a conversation about family eye health care.

Any problems caught early can save your sight, and if you are in a higher risk group – those aged over 50, with a family history of macula disease, and smokers – should seriously consider visiting their optometrist for a comprehensive eye health check, including a macula check.

May is Macula Month

So what is macular disease?

Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. About 1.7 million Australians have some evidence of macular disease.

AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) is where your vision is either distorted or you don’t have any central vision – you only see a blurred image or a black blob in the centre of everything you look at.

There is no cure for AMD, but treatment aims to preserve your vision for as long as possible.

In the early stages of AMD, central vision is blurred and seeing at a distance or close work is difficult. Blank spots appear in the centre of your vision.

Other symptoms include:

  • dimming of colour vision,
  • difficulty in judging heights and distances,
  • some difficulty with tasks such as pouring tea

Sometimes only one eye loses vision, while the other eye may see well for years

MD does not lead to total blindness. Most of the people with AMD are able to live independently but will have trouble seeing to do things like sewing, driving and reading, they may also have trouble recognising faces.

Special magnifying glasses, daily living aids such as needle threaders, large print books, proper lighting or a combination of these can help the person with AMD to be more independent.

Age-related macular degeneration is not a normal, or an inevitable consequence, of ageing.

If you are having difficulty seeing, don’t think it’s just part of getting older, see your optometrist as soon as possible.

There are two types of AMD – Wet and Dry

90 percent of those who have AMD have Dry AMD. This is when the macula gets thinner with age.

Dry AMD happens in 3 stages: early, intermediate, and late. It usually progresses slowly over several years.

There’s no treatment for late dry AMD, but you can find ways to make the most of your remaining vision. And if you have late dry AMD in only 1 eye, you can take steps to protect your other eye.

Wet AMD, is less common and usually causes faster vision loss. Any stage of dry AMD can turn into wet AMD — but wet AMD is always late stage. It happens when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye, leak blood and fluid and damage the macula. The good news is that treatment options are available for wet AMD.

The earlier macular degeneration is diagnosed, the better. Never think vision changes are just a part of getting older.

See an optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible if you notice any changes to your vision.

What are the symptoms of AMD?

The symptoms of AMD depend on the stage. AMD is a progressive disease — that means symptoms usually get worse over time.

Early dry AMD doesn’t cause any symptoms. You can have early signs of AMD without knowing. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams, including a check of the macula.

In intermediate dry AMD, some people still have no symptoms. Others may notice mild symptoms, like mild blurriness in their central vision or trouble seeing in low lighting.

In late AMD (wet or dry type), many people notice that straight lines start to look wavy or crooked. You may also notice a blurry area near the centre of your vision. Over time, this blurry area may get bigger or you may see blank spots. Colours may appear duller than before, and you may have more trouble seeing in low lighting.

Straight lines looking wavy is a warning sign for late AMD. If you notice this symptom, see your optometrist straight away.

Who is susceptible?

A major risk factor is family history, having a family member with AMD you have a 50% increased chance of developing AMD.

AMD primarily affects people over the age of 50 and the incidence increases with age.

Smoking is also a big risk factor. In fact, smoking is the single biggest MODIFIABLE risk factor for AMD.

Detecting, diagnosing and monitoring AMD

Early detection of AMD is crucial to saving sight. The only way to diagnose AMD in the early stages is through an eye examination, including a check of the macula. This can be done by an optometrist. They may use a variety of tests, including pupil dilation, retinal photography and optical coherence tomography (OCT).

Macular degeneration - Stargardt's disease

There is a type of macular degeneration that can affect those aged under 20, it’s called Stargardts disease. Like AMD it also is a progressive loss of central vision of both eyes but does not affect peripheral vision.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms are very similar to AMD and may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Deterioration of central vision
  • A central blind spot
  • Diminishing ability to perceive colours
  • Difficulty adapting from bright sunlight to a dimmer room

 

Who is at risk and how is it inherited?

This disease is usually an inherited, autosomal recessive disorder. Stargardt's disease can be passed onto children whose parents have the recessive gene for the disease.

In Australia approximately 2,500 – 3,000 people are affected, the majority have the recessive form of the disease.  If a family member is diagnosed with Stargardt disease, it is strongly advised that other members of the family also have a test to check for the disease.

Can it be treated?

Like AMD, there is no known cure for Stargardt's.