Understanding macular degeneration: causes, symptoms, and prevention

Macular degeneration or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a common eye condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a leading cause of vision loss, particularly among older adults. Macular degeneration primarily affects the central part of the retina, known as the macula, leading to a progressive loss of sharp, central vision. 

Approximately one in seven Australians over the age of 50 years have some evidence of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Among this group, around 17% are likely to experience vision impairment. Almost 15% of Australians aged over 80 years have vision loss or blindness from age-related macular degeneration.

macular degeneration vision

Effects of macular degeneration. Image source.

Risk factors of macular degeneration

The exact causes of macular degeneration are not yet fully understood, but various factors contribute to the development of this condition. Age is the most significant risk factor, with macular degeneration most commonly occurring in individuals aged 50 and above. Other factors that increase the risk include:

  1. Genetics: Family history of macular degeneration can predispose individuals to develop the condition.
  2. Smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk of developing macular degeneration.
  3. Obesity and poor diet: Unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, can contribute to the development and progression of the disease.
  4. Cardiovascular disease: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular conditions may increase the risk of macular degeneration.

Types of macular degeneration

There are two main types of macular degeneration:

  1. Dry AMD: Dry AMD is the most common form, accounting for around 85-90% of cases. It occurs when the macula thins and small yellow deposits called drusen accumulate beneath it. This gradual deterioration of the macula leads to a progressive loss of central vision.
  2. Wet AMD: Wet AMD is less common but more severe. It is characterised by the growth of abnormal blood vessels beneath the macula. These blood vessels are fragile and leak fluid and blood, causing rapid damage to the macula and leading to a sudden and severe loss of central vision.

How do you know if you have macular degeneration?

In the early stages, macular degeneration may not cause noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, individuals may experience:

  1. Blurred or distorted central vision
  2. Difficulty reading or performing tasks that require fine detail
  3. Dark or empty areas in the center of vision
  4. Straight lines appear wavy or distorted
  5. Decreased color perception

The Amsler grid is an at-home test that can help patients identify changes in vision. It is a simple square containing a grid pattern and a dot in the middle. When used correctly – once a day, every day – the Amsler grid can show problem spots in your field of vision.

Amsler Gird

The grid is available for free download over on along with instructions on how to use it. Please note that this test does not replace regular eye exams. 

It is essential to seek medical attention if any of these symptoms arise, as early diagnosis and intervention can help slow down the progression of the disease.

Preventative measures

While you can’t do much about your age or family history, there are things you can do to help protect your vision. Regular eye exams, both at-home checks and examinations by specialists can help detect and monitor changes.

Good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle are also important to optimise macular health and reduce your risk. 

Dietary supplements may be useful, if your intake of nutrients, particularly eye health nutrients, is inadequate. In particular, if you do not obtain enough lutein through a daily diet of dark green leafy vegetables, you may consider a lutein supplement. 

If you’re unable to eat two to three serves of fish each week you may consider a fish oil (Omega-3) supplement

However, there is currently a lack of good evidence confirming the benefits of Omega-3 supplements in reducing risk or slowing progression of AMD versus eating actual fish. 

If you are interested in supplements to support eye health or would like to know more about them, have a chat with our pharmacists – Jenny, Gavin, Michelle, Amy, Maria and Jill. You can ring us on (03) 9509 7912 or visit us at 153 Burke Rd, Glen Iris, VIC 3146 or complete our contact us form.

The earlier a diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration is made, the better.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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