What is macular degeneration?
The macula is an area of the retina (the light sensitive film at the back of your eye). The macula area is especially sensitive and is used for fine detailed vision.
Macula degeneration (MD) happens when the macula area at the back of the eye becomes worn or damaged. This can make it harder to see fine detail, such as recognising faces, or to read, or watch television. However, this does not normally affect your ability to walk around as the edge of your vision should not be affected.
Does it cause blindness?
MD is the leading cause of blindness in the UK. However, most people with MD still have their peripheral (side) vision and so can see well enough to get around. However, they may not be able to see well enough to read without strong magnification.
Does it happen more as you get older?
The most common forms of MD happen more as you get older and are known as age-related MD (AMD). Around one in 10 people aged 65 or older show some signs of MD. Some younger people may have MD caused by a genetic condition but this is less common than AMD.
Can I do anything to protect myself from getting AMD?
Smoking is known as a major risk factor for developing MD so if you smoke try to stop. It is also believed that having a diet that is rich in oily fish and coloured fruit and vegetables (for example, kale, broccoli and prunes) may reduce your risk of developing MD. Other factors that increase your risk of developing MD include having a family history of the condition, obesity and having blue eyes. It also happens more in white people and is slightly more common in women than men. It is possible that exposure to ultraviolet light may be linked to MD so we recommend that you wear UV-absorbing glasses when you are going to be outside for long periods.
I have heard that AMD can be ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ – is this right?
Dry MD is much more common than wet MD and is when yellow deposits, known as drusen, build up behind the macula. This may, in time, affect your vision, though this normally happens slowly. No treatment has yet been developed for dry MD.
Wet MD happens when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow behind the macula and leak fluid. This pushes the macula away from its blood supply at the back of the eye and causes a rapid loss of vision. It is usually associated with you noticing distorted vision (straight lines become wavy, or you have a blank spot in the centre of your vision). You can check this yourself by looking at straight lines such as door and window frames. It is important to do this with each eye separately and while wearing your glasses, if you need them.
If you notice these symptoms (of distortion), please telephone 0191 5208059 and we will arrange an urgent appointment for you.
Is there any treatment for AMD?
There is currently no treatment for dry MD. If the dry MD is interfering with your ability to see fine details,as part of your eye examination we can advise you regarding stronger spectacles or specialist magnifying aids. Lighting is very important,especially lighting that is close to the task you are doing. For example, a directable reading lamp that you can point directly onto your page is very helpful.
Organisations like RNIB or the local social services can provide you with equipment that can help you manage your day-to-day tasks. We can give you advice on contacting these services.
Wet MD can often be treated if it is caught early enough and this is normally done by injecting a drug into the gel inside your eye. This shrinks the new blood vessels that are pushing the macula away from the back of your eye. This is painless and you may need to have this repeated every few weeks for a few months. This will be provided on the NHS. It is important to spot any changes early by checking the vision in each eye separately and contacting your us immediately if your vision suddenly becomes distorted or you have a blank spot in your vision.
If you have wet MD, we will refer you to a specialist eye doctor, known as an ophthalmologist at a Rapid Access Macula Clinic. The ophthalmologist will decide if you need special treatment by taking some special photographs of the back of your eye to show the thickness of the retina. They may also inject you in your arm with some dye to see how this travels through the back of your eye, while taking a series of flash photographs of the inside of your eye.
If you find that you are strugging to see things because of poor vision, please contact us, we may be able to provide specialist low vision aids or refer you to a specialist low vision clinic.
If you have any concerns or queries, please telephone 0191 5208059 to make an appointment at RJ Naisbitt Optometry in South Hetton, Durham.