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Macular Degeneration

What is age-related macular degeneration?

This condition occurs when the support cells that help the light sensitive cells at the macula function effectively become less efficient. This leads to a build up of waste materials at the macula, which can eventually affect central vision.

What is the macula?

A normal retina
A normal retina

The macula forms part of the retina, which is a layer of nerve cells that lines the inside of the eye. The macula is located at the back of the eye and is made up of many light-sensitive cells. These cells produce our vision and help us to complete detailed tasks such as writing and looking at photographs.

‘Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of legal blindness in those over the age of 65 in westernised countries.’

Are there different types of age-related macular degeneration?

There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration. The main difference between the two types is that one involves the growth of new blood vessels behind the macula, and one does not.

A retina showing signs of wet macular degeneration
A retina showing signs of wet macular degeneration

‘Wet’ macular degeneration occurs when leaky new blood vessels develop. This can result in rapid loss of central vision, although peripheral or side vision is not affected.

A retina showing signs of dry macular degeneration
A retina showing signs of dry macular degeneration

‘Dry’ macular degeneration results from slow progressive age change. A person could have the early stages or dry macular degeneration and not notice any problems with their vision. Gradually, over many years, the central vision may start to deteriorate, although this may not occur in both eyes.

If a person has dry macular degeneration, they are more likely to go on to develop wet macular degeneration than someone who has no macular degeneration at all.

Who is at greater risk of age-related macular degeneration?

  • People over 65 years of age
  • People who smoke
  • People without a balanced diet
  • People who suffer from obesity

These are only general guidelines, and so it is important for everyone to have regular eye tests. When you go for an eye test, your optometrist will check the health of your eyes, including the retina and macula. He or she will be able to pick up signs of age-related changes and let you know about them.

People between the ages of 18 and 70 should normally have an eye test every two years. People aged over 70 should have an eye test annually. Your optometrist will let you know if, for any reason, you should have your eyes examined more frequently than this.

If your optometrist does see signs of age-related changes at your macula, you may then be referred to your local eye clinic to see an ophthalmologist who is medically qualified to diagnose and treat.

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