Things You Should Know About Macular Degeneration

Wet and Dry Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration (MD) is a group of degenerative conditions which affect the retina of the eye causing a loss of central vision. This loss is painless but progressive and there is as yet no cure. Eventually sufferers lose the ability to see fine detail. They become unable to read, drive or recognize faces.

At the centre of the retina is the macula which is responsible for central and detailed vision.  Peripheral vision allows you to see general shapes but not detail. Macular degeneration affects central vision.

Age related macular degeneration (ARMD) is affecting more and more people. In Australia, it is one of the major causes of vision loss. While the exact causes are unknown, risk factors include smoking and obesity. People over 50 are most frequently struck with this problem with one in seven being affected.

Some of the symptoms of macular degeneration include difficulty in anything that requires fine vision, distortion of straight lines, difficulty distinguishing faces and/or dark areas or empty spaces in the centre of your vision. If you find you need increased lighting or you have poor colour sensitivity you may need to be checked for the condition. Poor night vision and sensitivity to glare may also indicate a problem.

Early detection is crucial as, while there is no cure, steps can be taken to slow the progression of the disease.

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There are two forms of the condition – wet AMD and dry AMD. Both begin in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) which is a layer of cells underneath the retina. Blood vessels called the choroids move waste products away from the retina.

 ‘Dry’ MD is a slower form of macular degeneration and causes gradual loss of vision. When cells in the RPE die, retinal cells above them also die. This results in patches of ‘missing’ or inoperational retina. Should you be diagnosed with dry MD but then suffer a sudden change in vision, you may be developing the wet form. It is important to see your eye specialist as soon as possible

‘Wet’ MD occurs when the RPE cells fail to stop the entry of choroidal blood vessels into the retina, the blood vessels grow wildly, leaking blood and fluid into the retina. This can cause rapid and severe vision loss in a short space of time unless detected and treated.

 It is possible to decrease your risk of contracting ARMD by watching the foods you eat.

  • Try to limit your intake of fats, particularly trans fatty acids and animal fats. Trans fatty acids are found in many processed sweet foods such as cakes, pastries and biscuits. They are also found in some margarines.
  • Aim to have two servings of fish a week. Don’t forget to include oily varieties.
  • Eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables, both fresh and cooked.
  • Ensure an adequate supply of beta-carotene, zinc, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Some foods rich in these elements are fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and seeds.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid smoking.
Amsler's grid

The Amsler grid can help detect changes in your vision but should not be used to self diagnose.  If you have any concerns, see your eye specialist without delay. Remember, the condition can be slowed by appropriate treatment.