When we think of eyes, we think of the most recognisable parts, i.e. the pupils, cornea, iris, and maybe even the retina. What you might not realise is that there is a part of the retina called the macula. It is tiny, at only 5mm across but is responsible for all of our central vision, colours we see and any minute details that are visible to the human eye. Unfortunately, there is also a serious eye condition associated with the macula, namely, Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD.
What Is Macular Degeneration?
Age Related Macular Degeneration is now the most common cause of vision loss in the developed world. It is estimated that over 600,000 people in the UK alone are affected by this eye condition. As the name suggests, this macular disease usually affects people over the age of 60.
Macular Degeneration affects your central vision, although it never causes complete sight loss, meaning you will still be left with some peripheral vision.
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD usually develops over many years without pain and may begin in just one eye. In this case, the layer of nourishing cells in the macula called the retinal pigment epithelium, gradually die and cannot be remade.
Approximately 10-15% of people with Dry AMD usually go on to develop Wet AMD. This can occur very suddenly when new blood vessels grow unexpectedly in the macula and leak blood or fluid, which leads to scarring of the macula and a rapid loss of central vision, if left untreated.
Symptoms of Macular Degeneration
There are many symptoms that are associated with Macular Degeneration.
- You may find gaps or a dark ‘smudge’ in your vision, which is most prominent first thing in the morning,
- The intensity or brightness of colours can diminish.
- Straight lines, like window or door frames may appear to be bent or distorted.
- Difficulty in recognising faces or facial features when looking at somebody.
- Blurriness or disappearance of words on a page when reading.
- Bright light and glare may seem more intense and uncomfortable and adaptation from light to dimly lit environments will be more difficult.
Macular Degeneration Treatment in the UK
As soon as you notice changes in your central vision, we recommend booking an appointment with an optician for an eye examination and getting the back of your eyes scanned for signs of AMD. We have access to advanced scanning equipment like the OCT scan (Optical Coherence Tomography) which takes cross-sectional images of the retina so the macula can be seen clearly and AMD identified.
Our opticians may also ask you to look at something called an Amsler Grid. You will be asked to cover one eye and look at the chart. If you have early onset of Macular Degeneration the central part of the grid will appear distorted, and later on as the disease progresses, the central area of the grid would be completely missing.
There is currently no treatment available for Dry AMD, although our experts can advise on any magnifiers or equipment that can be used to assist you for your individual needs.
If our opticians suspect you have Wet AMD, you will be referred to a specialist at a hospital immediately and seen within 1-2 weeks.
Wet AMD treatment is available in the UK, and you will usually be treated within two weeks after the initial diagnosis. This involves having injections in the eye to stop the growth of abnormal blood vessels, which is a relatively painless experience conducted under local anaesthesia. There are other treatments and options available if the injections don’t appear to be working.
In recent months there has been a major breakthrough in Macular Degeneration treatment in the UK, with reports of two patients with severe Wet AMD undergoing successful stem cell therapy at Moorfields Eye Hospital, which restored their eyesight in one eye. This treatment is still in development, however it does provide hope and promise of better things to come for people living with AMD.
Living With Macular Degeneration
There are several factors that have been linked with the development of Macular Degeneration, including age, genes, smoking, alcohol, a poor diet that is low in fruits and vegetables and high blood pressure.
So, naturally in order to prevent it from occurring or deteriorating, we advise that you stop smoking; maintain a healthy weight and blood pressure by exercising regularly and protect your eyes from bright sunlight with sunglasses when necessary.
Eating a nutritious diet rich in vitamins, omega 3 fatty acids, lutein and zeaxanthin is incredibly important for providing antioxidants to the macula to reduce cell degeneration. These elements can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables, oily fish, dark green leafy vegetables and eggs, to name a few.
As well as eating healthily, taking specific nutritional supplements can help to slow down the progress of AMD if you already have the condition. We have the supplement Macushield available in store, and strongly encourage taking it as per our opticians’ advice.
Please contact us online if you would like to find out more about Age-related Macular Degeneration or Macushield, or you suspect that you might have it, book an appointment straight away with one of our expert opticians here, or alternatively, you can call us on 020 3828 7176 to speak to one of our experts for advice and support.