About age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a chronic and painless disease of the macula. The macula is an area at the very centre of the retina, at the back of your eye.
It’s the most common macular disease in Australia. AMD is responsible for half of all blindness and severe vision loss in this country.
Age-related macular degeneration causes progressive loss of central vision. It does, however, leave the peripheral vision intact. This loss of central vision affects the ability to read, watch TV, and recognise faces. But, by itself, AMD doesn’t lead to total vision loss (black blindness).
For some people, AMD advances very slowly and may not impact vision. For others, AMD may progress faster and lead to vision loss in one or both eyes.
You should treat any sudden changes to your vision as a medical emergency. See an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.
Age-related macular degeneration prevalence
About one in seven Australians over the age of 50 years have some evidence of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). In other words, 1.5 million Australians have signs of AMD.
About 17 per cent of these people will experience vision impairment.
Almost 15 per cent of Australians aged over 80 have vision loss or blindness from age-related macular degeneration.
Ageing and other risk factors
AMD is related to ageing. By definition, it affects people over 50 years of age. However, age-related macular degeneration is not a normal or inevitable consequence of ageing.
Difficulty with your vision should never be dismissed as just a part of getting older.
Age is the single biggest risk factor for AMD. Another key risk factor is family history.
While you can’t do much about these two risks, smoking is also a big risk factor. In fact, smoking is the single biggest modifiable risk factor for AMD.
How do you know if you have age-related macular degeneration?
You can have early signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) without knowing. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams, including a check of the macula.
During the early and intermediate stages, you may not notice any symptoms. Once the disease progresses, symptoms include:
- difficulty reading or any other activity which requires fine vision, even when wearing glasses
- distortion, where straight lines appear wavy or bent
- difficulty distinguishing faces
- dark or blurred patches in the centre of your vision
Detecting, diagnosing and monitoring AMD
Early detection of age-related macular degeneration is crucial to saving sight.
The only way to diagnose AMD in the early stages is through an eye examination, including a check of the macula. This can be done by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Your eye health professional may use a variety of tests, including pupil dilation, retinal photography and optical coherence tomography (OCT).
Between visits to your eye health professional, an Amsler grid is an essential and easy-to-use self-monitoring tool used to detect changes in your central vision.
You can order a FREE Amsler grid from MDFA.
An eye-healthy lifestyle
There are some things you can do to keep your macula healthy. This could delay the onset or progression of AMD.
Not smoking, doing regular exercise, adopting an eye-healthy diet, and protecting your eyes from the sun are all recommended.
In some cases, additional supplements may be beneficial. But first, consult with your doctor or eye health professional.
Webinar: Learn about AMD & eating for eye health
Treatment and research
There’s no cure for AMD. However, there is effective treatment in the form of eye injections for wet (neovascular) age-related macular degeneration. As a result of these treatments, thousands of Australians have kept their vision.
There is no treatment for early, intermediate or late-stage dry AMD. But changes to diet and lifestyle may help slow down the disease. In some circumstances, dietary or AREDS2 supplements may also help. Again, check with your eye health professional or doctor before making these changes.
Researchers from Australia and around the world are looking for ways to cure AMD. They’re also looking for treatments for dry and earlier stage AMD.
In Australia, Macular Disease Foundation Australia is the largest source of research grants for macular disease outside of government. This is due to the generosity of our sponsors and donors.
Other types of macular degeneration
While age-related macular degeneration is the most common form of macular degeneration, there are different types, some being rarer than others. These include Stargardt disease and myopic macular degeneration.