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What is Macular Degeneration?

18 February 2020

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in Australia. Regularly having your eyes tested is essential to the early detection and treatment of macular degeneration. But what is macular degeneration? Read on to find out the causes, symptoms and treatments.

Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, is the name given to a group of chronic, degenerative eye diseases that results in the loss of central vision, leaving peripheral or side vision intact.

Macular degeneration is painless and does not result in total vision loss, however it can result in disabling loss of vision. It affects your ability to read, drive and recognise faces.

Macular degeneration causes

Risk factors include:

  • Age: macular degeneration often affects people over the age of 50.
  • Family history: 70% of people suffering macular degeneration have a family history of the disease.
  • Smoking: smokers are 3-4 times more likely to develop macular degeneration and can develop it 5-10 years earlier than non-smokers.

It is possible to reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration by making positive lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and wearing sun protection. Some studies also indicate that taking specific nutrient supplements can support macular and general eye health. Before taking supplements, it is important to discuss this with your health care professional to determine the most appropriate supplement for your individual needs.

Macular degeneration symptoms

It is possible to have early stages of macular degeneration without any obvious symptoms. For this reason, it is very important to have regular appointments to check your macular and eye health, particularly if you have any of the risk factors indicated above. Your opthamologist will be able to test your macular and detect any irregularities before you may experience any noticeable symptoms.

Some noticeable symptoms of macular degeneration include:

    • Difficulty in doing tasks that require fine vision e.g. reading
    • Distorted vision e.g. straight lines appearing wavy or bent
    • Difficulty distinguishing faces
    • Dark patches in the centre of your vision
    • Need for increased illumination
    • Sensitivity to glare
    • Decreased night vision
    • Poor colour sensitivity

Early detection of macular degeneration is crucial to save sight. Earlier diagnosis allows for earlier treatment to slow the disease progression.

Macular degeneration treatment

The treatment options available to you depend on what type of macular degeneration you have and what stage they are in.

There are two types of macular degeneration:

1. Dry macular degeneration: caused by the gradual loss of retinal cells. Results in gradual loss of central vision.
2. Wet macular degeneration: caused by the formation of blood vessels which leak fluid and blood under the retina. Results in rapid loss of central vision. Loss of vision in one eye can be unnoticed if the other eye is unaffected.

Currently, there are no treatments available for early stages of wet macular degeneration. Later stages of wet macular degeneration can be treated with injections of anti-VEGFs. A protein called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor (VEGF) is primarily responsible for the growth of new blood vessels and leaking. If left untreated, this can cause permanent vision loss. To stop or slow this process, anti-VEGFs may be injected into the eye. Initially, these will be injected on a monthly basis to treat the symptoms. Injections may then be administered indefinitely to control the disease.

Unfortunately, there are no treatments currently available for any stages of dry macular degeneration.

Early detection is crucial for successful treatment of macular degeneration. If you have noticed any rapid change in eyesight or are concerned about your vision, contact Hunter Laser Vision immediately.

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