What Is Macular Degeneration?

May 29, 2014
SpecSavers, Macular Degeneration, eyes, eyesight, awareness week

This year, Specsavers is helping to raise funds for the Macular Disease Foundation Australia as part of its Specsavers Community Program. Starting from June 1, 2014 a number of Specsavers stores will be switching their Specsavers Community Program local charity box to the Foundation for one month. Every pair of glasses sold during June, means a donation to the Macular Disease Foundation Australia or The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Optometrist and professional services director at Specsavers Peter Larsen revealed what macular degeneration is and why it’s important to recognise the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of macular degeneration?

Macular Degeneration (MD) is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, painless loss of central vision, affecting the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty in reading or doing any other activity which requires fine vision
  • Distortion where straight lines appear wavy or bent
  • Distinguishing faces becomes a problem
  • Dark patches or empty spaces appearing in the centre of your vision

Who is most at risk?

Macular degeneration is primarily age related, affecting one in seven people over the age of 50, in Australia. People with a family history of macular degeneration have a 50 per cent chance of developing the disease as-well as smokers and people that have smoked, who are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.

How can it be detected? Does this have to be done by an optometrist or GP?

It is recommended you have an eye test with an optometrist every two years for the early detection of eye diseases such as macular degeneration. Specsavers offer free digital retinal photography with every standard eye test which can help detect eye health conditions such as macular degeneration. Digital retinal photography uses sophisticated equipment to produce a high-resolution photograph of your retina, optic nerve and blood vessels. This technology allows optometrists to screen for abnormalities which can help with the early detection of diseases, including macular degeneration. If any abnormalities are detected, your local optometrist can refer you to an ophthalmologist to help diagnose or treat macular degeneration.


If macular degeneration is diagnosed, what is the treatment?

There are two types of macular degeneration – dry macular degeneration and wet macular degeneration. Dry macular degeneration is a slower form of the disease, causing gradual loss of vision. Dry macular degeneration does not cause sudden vision loss or distortion. If you know you have dry macular degeneration and you experience any sudden change in vision, then it is likely that you have developed the ‘wet’ form. It is critical that you see your eye care professional immediately.

Wet macular degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid and blood into the retina, leading to scarring and loss of vision. When left undetected or untreated, rapid and severe loss of central vision can occur within a short period of time.

Can it be cured or reversed?

Currently there are no medical treatments available for dry macular degeneration, however a substantial amount of research is being conducted to find a treatment. There are a number of medical treatments available for wet macular degeneration. These treatments do not cure the disease but aim to stabilise and maintain the best vision for as long as possible. In some people, treatment can improve vision.

To slow or stop this process, various drugs that block this protein (called anti-VEGFs) may be injected into the eye. Clinical trials have shown that the use of anti-VEGF drugs maintains vision in the vast majority of wet macular degeneration patients. For both dry and wet macular degeneration, diet and lifestyle changes may also slow down the progression of the disease. Wet macular degeneration can be treated if caught early which is why Specsavers optometrists stress the importance of having an eye test every two years.

Any other details you’d like to add regarding Macular Degeneration Awareness Week?

I recommend every Australian at risk – those over 50, with a direct family history and smokers – should take charge of their eye health this Macular Degeneration Awareness Week by having an eye test. It’s important to have a regular eye test every two years, as some serious eye conditions, like macular degeneration, do not always have obvious warning signs. In its early stages, macular degeneration can go unnoticed, so it’s really important to raise awareness so that those Australians at risk can have their eyes tested and catch the disease early.

Selected Specsavers stores in Australia are proud to be raising funds for the Macular Disease Foundation Australia as part of the Specsavers Community Program. Click here for more information.

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