You probably haven’t heard of Macular Degeneration, a condition affecting eyesight, since it largely affects the older people in the community who for the most part may not be aware they have acquired the condition – it usually happens steadily, and since it doesn’t often result in complete blindness is not in the news all that much to make them aware.
But the incidence of the condition is growing – so why is it growing?
There are several types of macular degeneration; the type on the increase by far is Age-related Macular Degeneration, called AMD. It affects the older members of the population, the so-called baby boomers who are now in their 50s and 60s, and as more people advance into those age brackets, so more will be susceptible. Nearly 15% of Australians over 50 would show some evidence of the condition if examined.
So what is Macular Degeneration?
The eye focuses images on the back of the eye – the retina (much like a camera focuses on the film at the back of a conventional camera). Part of the retina just under the optic nerve, only 5mm in diameter, is very sensitive and can distinguish light and colour extremely well (unlike a camera film which is uniform throughout).
The position of the macula means that the centre of field of vision is directly aimed at this area of high sensitivity. Now if the area of the macula deteriorates in any way then the very thing that is being focussed on, at the centre of vision, is blurred, leaving only the outer area of view, the peripheral area of vision, in a satisfactory state. In addition, the concept of colour is greatly reduced.
The cause of AMD is unknown but is thought like many other eye conditions, to depend on both hereditary and environmental factors. There are two distinct forms of the condition – “Dry AMD” which may present itself first and lead to the second for around 15% of sufferers – and “Wet AMD”.
This affects some 90% of people who have AMD.
The cells in the retina become thinner and less effective, leading to degeneration and leaving yellow crystals in the macula area, and vision is gradually compromised.
As stated earlier, the process can be a steady one – it may be years before a person has an eye examination in which the condition is detected and fully diagnosed.
There are currently no effective treatments to cure Dry AMD.
This is worse than Dry AMD, and can be contracted at the same time.
With this type, the underlying layer of the retina breaks down allowing blood vessels to permeate and grow through and bleeding occurs – again vision is gradually compromised. However the process can happen relatively quickly leading to severe loss of vision.
In some cases of Wet AMD laser treatment can halt the disease.
Who is at risk of AMD
Whilst there is no direct hereditary risk it has been found that there may be some prevalence in a family.
Those at greatest risk by far are smokers!! So if you want to lower your risk of developing AMD and you are a smoker, guess what? – YOU NEED TO STOP SMOKING!
And if you are a non-smoker? You now have more ammunition to help smokers stop.
Those with poor diet and exercise habits are highly susceptible, so improve nutrition and increase exercise – the exercise will also reduce blood pressure, another high risk factor.
Positive things to do (apologies for repetition)
Exercise regularly – just go out and take a walk!
- Eat nutritious foods – you know, fresh fruit and vegetables!
- Don’t smoke, and help others to stop;
- Keep blood pressure normal;
- Wear a hat, sunscreen and quality sunglasses when out in the sun.