MD happens when the macula, which is the important part at the back of the eye becomes damaged. This can make it difficult to see fine detail, such as recognising faces or reading, it does not affect your ability to walk around as the periphery of your vision should not be affected.
Does it cause blindness?
MD is the leading cause of blindness in the UK. The most common forms of MD happen as you get older and are known as age-related MD (AMD). Around one in 10 people aged 65 or over show some signs of MD.
What are the symptoms?
AMD is not painful and never leads to total blindness because it is only the central vision that is affected. This means that almost everyone with AMD will have enough side (or peripheral) vision to get around and keep their independence.
In the early stages of AMD, central vision may be blurred or distorted and things may look an unusual size or shape. This may happen quickly or develop over several months, although if only one eye is affected it may not be noticed. People with AMD may become sensitive to light or find it harder to distinguish colours. The macula enables people to see fine detail so those with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the centre of their sight. This makes activities like reading, writing and recognising faces very difficult.
Who is at risk from AMD?
The cause of AMD is unknown but several factors appear to increase the risk. These include smoking, a high-fat diet and excessive sun exposure. Risk also increases with advancing age and may be more common in those with a family history of AMD. The incidence is higher among women and those with light skin or eye colour.
How can your optometrist help?
Optometrists have an important role to play in detecting and monitoring AMD by checking your standard of vision and examining the macula for signs of the disease at routine eye examinations. If AMD is suspected, your optometrist may put drops into the eyes to widen the pupils and see more of the retina. Early detection is essential to treating some types of AMD. Your optometrist will advise you whether you need to be referred to a GP or hospital for medical advice. If your vision is affected, you may be given stronger spectacle lenses or special magnifiers to help you see better.
Light entering the eye is imaged on the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is a small area in the centre of the retina. This is the part of the eye that we use to read and see fine detail. The macula consists of several layers of tiny cells. As we get older, some of these can fail to function properly. This can lead to a build up of deposits in the retina and the growth of new blood vessels. These new blood vessels are fragile and bleed easily. If this happens, there may be a sudden loss of central vision and objects may appear distorted.
Light is focused on the retina at the back of the eye. The macula is a small area in the centre of the retina that we use to read and see fine detail. The macula consists of several layers of tiny cells. As we get older, these cells can fail to function properly leading to a build up of deposits and a loss of cells. This can lead to distortion and over time, it can become difficult to read and see fine detail. The condition usually progresses quite slowly and various aids are available to help you to see smaller print.
What can be done?
There is currently no treatment for dry AMD but the wet form can be treated if diagnosed in the early stages of the disease. if you suspect you have wet AMD contact us straightaway for an examination. We will arrange a fast track referral directly to ophthalmology for any patient we suspected has wet macular degeneration. .
There is evidence that improving your diet by eating fresh fruits and dark green, leafy vegetables may delay or reduce the severity of AMD. Some studies show that taking nutritional supplements may be effective in slowing the progression of AMD although they do not prevent its initial development nor improve vision already lost.
The Amsler chart provides a quick way of checking for any changes in your vision. In particular, it will detect early changes in the macula.
Cover your left eye and stare at the dot in the centre of the chart.
Make a note of any areas where the lines are faded or where the lines are distorted.