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Mother’s Day is in May, and it’s also a time we focus on increasing the understanding of macula disease.

What is macular disease?

Macular disease is a painless condition that affects the central retina (the macula), of your eyes.

The condition destroys your central vision, so you can’t see what you are focusing on, you only have some peripheral (side) vision, which makes everyday activities like driving and reading very difficult.

Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. Nearly 2 million people in Australia have some evidence of macular disease.

Genetic factors are thought to play a role in the disease, as it tends to run in families. If you have a family member with the disease you are more likely to develop the condition.

If you have diabetes and you’re over 50, you have a one in three chance of having diabetic retinopathy.

Knowing your risks, and having regular macula checks, is the only way to protect your vision.

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What is a macula?

The front of your eye is made up of the cornea, iris, pupil and lens. These parts of your eye focus what you are looking at onto the retina (at the back of your eye).

The retina is light-sensitive tissue that acts like film in a camera. The retina captures images and sends them to your brain via the optic nerve. Your brain interprets the images so you can ‘see’ what you are looking at.

At the centre of the retina, is your macula, an area approximately 5mm in size, that is responsible for your central vision. Your macula is used when you read, drive and for recognising faces. It’s also responsible for most of your colour vision.

The rest of the retina is called the peripheral retina, which provides you with peripheral (side) vision.

Age-related macular degeneration

Almost 15 per cent of Australians aged over 80 have vision loss or blindness from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is the most common macular disease in Australia and is responsible for half of all blindness and severe vision loss.

For some people, AMD advances very slowly and may not impact vision. For others, AMD may progress faster and lead to vision loss in one or both eyes.

Age-related macular degeneration is not a normal or an inevitable consequence of ageing. Difficulty with your vision should never be dismissed as just a part of getting older.

Risk factors for macular degeneration
  1. Age is the single biggest risk factor for AMD
  2. Another key risk factor is family history
  3. A lack of regular eye checks
  4. Smoking is also a big risk factor, it’s the single biggest modifiable risk factor for AMD
Eye checks are important

Having regular eye checks, including a check of your macula, will detect disease in its early stages.

Eye checks are even more important after you turn 50 to detect AMD. It’s recommended you have an eye check within two years of your last one, and every year if you are over 65.

How do you know if you have age-related macular degeneration?

During the early and intermediate stages of the disease, you may not notice any symptoms, that’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams, including a check of the macula.

Once the disease progresses, symptoms include:

  • difficulty reading or any other activity which requires fine vision, even when wearing glasses
  • distortion, where straight lines appear wavy or bent
  • difficulty distinguishing faces
  • dark or blurred patches in the centre of your vision

Your optometrist will use several tests to check your macula, including pupil dilation, Optos wide field retinal photography.

If you notice sudden changes in your vision, get your eyes checked immediately.
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Will getting stronger glasses help AMD?

No, it won’t help AMD – but for those who have reduced vision that is not severe, the right level of magnification (and good lighting) may help with near vision.

Glasses work by helping the eye to focus light on to the retina. It is important to use the correct strength glasses to maximise vision, but stronger glasses won’t help macular degeneration.

Are dry eyes the same as dry AMD?

No, these are very different conditions.

Dry eye is the result of a problem with your tears that lubricate the cornea and conjunctiva, the outer structures of the eye.
Dry AMD occurs much deeper inside the eye at the macula and causes the gradual loss of your central vision.

What is wide field retinal photography?

This is a type of digital eye imaging technology where the diagnostic equipment takes images of your retina.

The images give your optometrist a detailed view of your retina, allowing for the earlier diagnosis of eye disease.

What should I expect during a retinal exam?

The exam takes about 10 minutes, is non-invasive and painless.

You simply place your chin onto a rest area and keep your eye open as you look at a blinking dot while the Optos machine scans your eye.

You should treat any sudden changes to your vision as a medical emergency. See an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.