What is macular degeneration?

Macular Degeneration

What is it?

The macula is the central part of the retina which helps us process all visual images; responsible for the ability to read, recognise faces, read road signs safely and see colours. MD causes progressive macula damage, resulting in loss of central vision.

Types of MD

The disease comes in two forms:

  • Dry MD, which causes gradual vision loss.
  • Wet MD, which is much more rapid and if untreated, can lead to permanent loss of vision within 1 week.

How common is it?

One in seven New Zealanders1 over the age of 50 could be affected by macular degeneration (MD), the most common cause of blindness in New Zealand. A simple eye test is key to detecting changes in the macula, but with research revealing the more than half (51 per cent) of the population unaware they should have an eye test every two years2, many are putting themselves at risk of irreversible blindness.

Important factors to consider when looking after your eye health include knowing your family’s medical history, eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and protecting eyes from direct sunlight and UV rays by wearing sunglasses with polarised lenses.

Risk factors:

People most at risk are those aged over 50, who smoke and who also have a direct family history of MD. Smoking, which is the most controllable risk factor for MD, causes free radical cellular damage to the eye while decreasing antioxidant levels. Smokers are three times more likely to develop MD than non-smokers.

Diagnosing MD

Peter Larsen, Optometrist and Professional Services Director at Specsavers, explains, “Macular degeneration affects the centre of your sight and can result in blind spots, blurred or distorted vision and eventual blindness. This disease can go unnoticed for some time, but symptoms include the inability to see fine details, difficulty driving and difficulty recognising people’s faces.”

Peter says, “It’s really important to have an eye test every two years as some serious eye conditions, such as macular degeneration, do not always have obvious warning signs. A regular eye check only takes around 20 minutes but could be critical in protecting your long term sight. “In addition, I urge people to look at the risk factors that may be increasing their chances of developing macular degeneration, such as smoking, a poor diet, a family history of the disease and high blood pressure.”

Tests for MD:

In the fight against the disease, this Macular Degeneration Awareness Week Specsavers are encouraging Australians to come in store to test their eyes. Specsavers offers free Digital Retinal Photography with every standard eye check, which can help with early detection of MD and other serious diseases.

Managing MD

While there is no cure for dry MD, there are treatment options which can slow down the progression of blindness in wet MD. Along with having an eye test, Australians over 50 should incorporate good eye health practices into their diet and lifestyle, such as eating plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit and fish, and quitting smoking.