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Legal blindness - know your risk

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Macular disease is the leading cause of legal blindness in Australia, but if you know your risk factors and take action, you could save your sight.

Macular degeneration is a common eye disease that affects thousands of people in Australia, especially those over 50.  The condition causes damage to the macula, which is the central part of the eye that gives you clear, detailed vision.

Macular degeneration can cause significant visual impairment and, in some cases, blindness. It affects people's whole life which is why it's important to see an optometrist regularly for early detection and treatment of the disease.

There are two main types of macular degeneration - dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration is the most common type and usually progresses slowly. It can cause blurred or distorted vision, difficulty reading or recognising faces, and a need for brighter lighting.

Wet macular degeneration is less common, but more severe. It can cause rapid vision loss and distortion, dark spots or shadows in your central vision, and a rapid decline in visual acuity (how you distinguish shapes and details).

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The disease can have a significant impact on your life, especially if you rely on your vision for your work or going about your daily activities. Your ability to drive, read, watch television, and even recognise people's faces is affected by macular degeneration.

The disease can also cause depression, anxiety, and social isolation, as people are affected by their visual impairment.

Why See an Optometrist

It's essential to see your optometrist regularly (every two years minimum), especially if you are over 50, or have a family history of macular degeneration.

Your optometrist can detect the early signs of macular degeneration when you have your eye check. They perform various tests, such as a visual acuity test, dilated eye exam, and optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan to evaluate the health of your retina and macula.

If macular degeneration is detected early, there are several treatment options available to slow or stop the progression of the disease to help you maintain your independence and quality of life.

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What to Look Out For

It's important to be aware of the early signs of macular degeneration, these include:

  • Blurred or distorted central vision
  • Difficulty seeing objects in low light
  • Need for brighter lighting when reading or doing close work
  • Dark spots or shadows in the central vision
  • A gradual or sudden loss of central vision

If you experience any of these symptoms, it's crucial to see your optometrist right away. Early detection and treatment can help preserve your vision and quality of life.

Your optometrist can provide specialised glasses to optimise vision. They can also prescribe special lens tints to enhance contrast and reduce glare, and special coatings for specific conditions.

90% of vision loss can be prevented or treated.  Spotting it early is the key to getting it fixed. See your optometrist for an eye check every two years to keep you doing what you need and love to do.