What is the macula?
The macula is very important – it’s a small area found at the centre of the retina and is responsible for what we see straight in front of us, allowing us to see fine detail for activities such as reading and writing, as well as our ability to see colour.
What is macular degeneration?
Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. If it occurs later in life, it is called ‘age-related macular degeneration’, also often known as AMD. There are two types of macular degeneration or AMD, usually referred to as ‘dry’ and ‘wet’.
Dry AMD this happens when there is a build-up of deposits on the macula called drusen. It is the most common form of AMD and is the less severe of the two. There is no known treatment at present, however, there are some lifestyle changes which can help the progression of the disease.
Wet AMD results in new blood vessels growing behind the retina, this causes bleeding and scarring, which can lead to sight loss. It can develop quickly and sometimes responds to treatment in the early stages. AMD is not painful, and almost never leads to total blindness. It is the most common cause of poor sight in people over 60 but very rarely leads to complete sight loss because only the central vision is affected. This means that almost everyone with AMD will have enough side (or peripheral) vision to get around and keep his or her independence.
What causes AMD?
The exact cause for AMD is not known. However, there are a number of risk factors which have been identified.
Age – AMD is an age-related condition so growing older makes the condition more likely.
Gender – Women seem more likely to develop macular degeneration than men.
Genetics – There appear to be a number of genes which can be passed through families which may have an impact on whether someone develops AMD or not.
Smoking – Smoking has been linked by a number of studies to the development of macular degeneration. It has also been shown that stopping smoking can reduce the risk of macular degeneration developing.
Sunlight – Some research suggests that lifetime exposure to sunlight may affect the retina. It is a good idea to wear sunglasses to protect the eyes.
Nutrition – Research suggests that some vitamins and minerals can help protect against macular degeneration.
Although nothing can be done about age, gender and the genes we inherit, it is possible to control the other more environmental factors that seem to be linked to AMD. Protecting your eyes from the sun, eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and stopping smoking may all help to delay the progress of AMD.
What are the symptoms of AMD?
In the early stages your central vision may be blurred or distorted, with objects looking an unusual size or shape and straight lines appearing wavy or fuzzy. You may be very sensitive to light or actually see lights, shapes and colours that are not there. Because AMD affects the centre of the retina, people with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the centre of their sight.
What should I do if I think I have macular degeneration?
If you suspect that you may have AMD but there are no sudden symptoms, you should contact us or your family doctor (GP) who will refer you to an eye specialist. If there is a rapid change in vision, you should consult your doctor or hospital’s Accident and Emergency department immediately.
For more information, ring us on 01704-831117 or call into the Practice