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Macula Month – Understanding Age Related Macular Degeneration

What is Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)?

AMD is a chronic and progressive disease of the macula, the central region of the retina – the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, that gives us the capacity for detailed central vision. It is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia and approximately one in seven (1.3 million) Australians over the age of 50 have some evidence of the disease. You can have early signs of the disease without knowing it, but when symptoms appear, these can include blurred central vision, distortion of vision (where straight lines appear wavy), problems distinguishing faces and dark patches in your central vision. Major risk factors include age, smoking and genetics.

Raising awareness of risk factors for AMD

Did you know that if you have age-related macular disease, your siblings and children have a significant risk of getting the disease too?

Education and awareness can result in an increase in the number of people presenting to be screened and this helps with early detection of the disease.

‘’Patients with wet AMD who present late (because they have not heard of the disease or they have ignored symptoms of declining vision) have the worst outcome,” explains Dr Jane Khan, Chair of RANZCO’s Public Health Committee. “If wet AMD is picked up early enough, injections can restore almost normal vision. Unfortunately, if it’s left too long without treatment, even injections won’t help. If you are aware of vision problems, don’t delay in getting your eyes checked.’’

Macular Disease Foundation Australia (MDFA) has developed public information resources highlighting susceptibility to the disease and measures which can be taken to help prevent and slow down progression. MDFA’s resources also focus on simple messages about the role of family and community in spreading the word and impacting behaviour change.

“With emerging evidence there’s a strong familial and hereditary link to many macular diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD). MDFA are asking people to talk to their family about the risks factors and spread the word about the importance of getting a macula check.” – Dee Hopkins, MDFA CEO

Stages of AMD

Early and intermediate stages are characterised by a progressive build-up of waste material under the retina called drusen. It may progress to late AMD, which can be vision-threatening. The late stages are divided into atrophic (dry) AMD, caused by a gradual loss of retinal cells, and neovascular (wet) AMD where there is a formation of fragile blood vessels that can leak fluid and blood within and under the macula.

Treatment and Management of AMD

Currently there are no treatments for earlier stages of AMD and late stage dry AMD. Diet and lifestyle measures can be preventative and help maintain healthy eyes,  and an appropriate supplement may be considered depending on the stage of AMD. The wet form of AMD can be treated with intravitreal injections (IVI), IVIs are injections into the eye now known to be an effective way of maintaining best vision for as long as possible. Ongoing effectiveness depends on patient compliance with regular planned follow-up injections. Research is ongoing to improve current treatment methods and develop new treatment options.

Last updated: June 13, 2019

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