What is Age-related Macular Degeneration?
Around 600,000 people in the UK live with age-related macular degeneration. That number’s expected to rise to 750,000 by 2020. It’s the leading cause of blindness and vision impairment affecting older people in the western world. What causes it? It’s the result of damage to the macular region of the eye, the area responsible for seeing fine detail. Typically, you’ll find that your peripheral vision remains unaffected but objects in your central line of vision become harder to see. This impacts tasks such as reading, watching television, even recognising faces.
There are two types of AMD:
- Dry AMD: Sometimes called ‘wear and tear’, dry AMD happens when yellow deposits, known as drusen) accumulate behind the macular.
- Wet AMD: This type of AMD occurs when new blood vessels grow behind the macular. The blood vessels begin to leak, pushing the macular away from its blood supply, causing rapid loss of vision. Wet AMD requires urgent treatment, so you need to visit your optician or GP at the first sign of sudden changes to your vision.
Who’s at risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration?
The exact cause of AMD isn’t known but it’s most prevalent in people over 65 (one in ten). Some younger people have macular degeneration as the result of a genetic condition, but this is rare. Other factors that put you at risk of developing AMD include:
- Failing to wear protective eyewear in sunlight
- Having a close relative with AMD
- Already having AMD in one eye
What are the symptoms of Age-related Macular Degeneration?
Dry AMD develops slowly so it may not have an immediate impact on your vision in the early stages. However, over time you may notice:
- Your central vision starts to become blurred
- A persistent ‘smudge’ in your central vision;
- That straight lines appear wavy.
- You become sensitive to bright light, or you struggle to move from dark to light environments
- Colours start to fade
Symptoms will be more noticeable if you look for them with each eye separately. With both eyes open, your good eye will compensate for the other one so they’re harder to spot. You can also monitor changes by using an Amsler chart at home.
Treating Age-related Macular Degeneration in Cambridge
Currently, there’s no effective treatment for dry AMD. However, special magnifiers and good lighting will enhance your vision. If you suffer from dry AMD, you should continue to see your optometrist to monitor your condition.
As long as it’s diagnosed swiftly, wet AMD is often treatable with injections to the gel inside your eye. By shrinking the new blood vessels that are displacing the macular the injections stop the disease from getting worse and, in doing so, save your sight. Injections may need repeating every few weeks for a while. If you experience changes to your vision, notify your optometrist who’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Preventing Age-related Macular Degeneration
There are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chances of development AMD:
- Stop smoking
- Wear UV-absorbing glasses
- Exercise to maintain a healthy weight and control your blood pressure, both of which have been linked with age-related macular degeneration
- Eat a diet rich in fruit and dark green vegetables (kale, spinach, celery and broccoli) supports eye health and may reduce your risk of developing AMD
Living with Age-related Macular Degeneration
If you’ve been diagnosed with AMD, your optician will advise you about any changes you may need to make in your day-to-day life. They’ll also refer you to a specialist clinic that can provide you with magnifiers and put you in touch with Cambridge support groups.