A/Prof Adrian Fung joins us on the RANZCO blog to look at why macula health is so important
This May is Macula Month run by Macular Disease Foundation Australia. Macular disease is currently the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. Macula Month focuses on urging people to learn about their risk and take action to protect their sight. A/Prof Adrian Fung joins us on the RANZCO blog to look at why macula health is so important.
Can you start by telling us why the macula is such an important part of a person’s sight?
The macula is the centre of the retina, the nerve tissue that lines the inside of the eye. It acts like the “film” in the camera and is one of the most important structures in the eye for sight. It's particularly important for central, reading and colour vision under lighted conditions.
What diseases commonly affect the macula?
The most common cause of visual loss in elderly patients is Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This disease specifically affects the macula. There are two forms: a “dry” form which is a wearing down of the macula with loss of cells and a “wet” form where there is bleeding underneath the retina. Other than AMD, there are many other diseases that affect the macula. The most common of these would include swelling of the macula caused by diabetes (diabetic macular oedema) or blockages (occlusions) of the retinal veins.
When you first started out in medicine what inspired you to lean towards macular and retina related ophthalmology?
The first time I ever saw the retina I was struck by its beauty! A structure that is not much thicker than a piece of paper can capture all the images, memories and emotions that we see over a lifetime. Here is an organ that we can see in microscopic detail with the aid of only some lenses and a light source. Although there are many diseases that affect the retina, many of these are treatable with new medications and surgical techniques. This is perhaps the most rewarding part of being a retinal physician; restoring sight to patients and seeing how it can transform their lives.
Why is raising awareness during macula month so important?
In general, there is a poor awareness in the community of what the macula is and the consequences to vision that diseases to the macular can cause. Vision is a major determinant of quality of life, and currently there are good treatments for many macular diseases. The earlier that patients present, the better the final prognosis will be.
What is the most important advice that you give to your patients about macula health?
1. Don’t smoke
2. If you have diabetes look after your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
3. If you notice blurring of vision, don’t delay seeing an eyecare professional.
When in a person’s life should someone start considering the health of their macula?
People of all ages can develop diseases of the macula from newborns to patients over 100 years old, so everyone should seek professional advice if they notice a deterioration in their vision. Patients who are diabetic should have an eye check when first diagnosed with diabetes and then at least every 1-2 years thereafter. AMD (“macular degeneration”) occurs in older people over the age of 50 years.
What are the most important signs that a person needs to have their macular checked by an eye care professional?
Blurred vision, difficulty reading, distortion (straight lines becoming wavy) and difficulty judging distances.
If there anything else that you would like to add or tell us about?
Contrary to popular belief, reading or watching the TV does not harm your eyes!
A/Prof Adrian Fung