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Our new vision
Macular degeneration damages your eyesight and around 500,000 people in the UK have it to some degree. It can occur in younger people but commonly affects people over the age of 50 and is the most common cause of sight loss in people over the age of 65 – hence the name ‘age-related macular degeneration’ often abbreviated to AMD.
There’s no cure and treatment is not available for all forms of the condition. Yet it almost never leads to total blindness and with the right support, there is much you can do to make the most of the sight you have.
Here we look at how macular degeneration affects your sight, the different types of AMD, treatment available and details of organisations that can provide more specialised information and support.
The macula is a small area in the centre of the retina of your eye and helps you see straight ahead, see fine detail and see colour.
If the cells in the macula are damaged or start to work less efficiently as you get older, you’ll find it harder to read and recognise people’s faces. Your side vision, known as peripheral vision, is unaffected and so you can see to get around.
There are two types of macular degeneration - the ‘wet’ form and ‘dry’ form. These descriptions refer to what can be seen when your macula is examined by an eye specialist. They do not describe how your eyes feel if you have the ‘wet’ or ‘dry’ form. The ‘dry’ form accounts for approximately 90% of all cases. It develops slowly over time causing a gradual loss of central vision. There is currently no cure or clinically proven treatment for this condition. You may also get the ‘wet’ form too.
The ‘wet’ form is more serious, can develop relatively quickly and is due to new, fragile blood vessels that grow underneath the macula. They can leak blood or fluid into the eye to cause scarring and permanent damage to the macula. If you notice any sudden change in your vision, you should consult your GP or visit your local accident and emergency department.
The causes of macular degeneration are unknown although research suggests genetics, dietary factors and lifestyle may all play a part. Age – the older you are the more at risk you are;
Gender - AMD seems to be more common in women, although the reasons for this are not fully understood;
Smoking – has been shown to double the risk of developing AMD and it tends to occur at a younger age in smokers;
Sunlight – some research suggests sunlight has an effect on the retina and it is known to increase your risk of developing a cataract. So it’s a good idea to always wear sunglasses when out in bright sunshine. Choose glasses with a CE mark, UV400 label or a statement that they offer 100% UV protection.
Genetics – there appears to be an increased chance of developing AMD, if there is a history of AMD in your family, although it’s not known whether it is directly passed through families;
Diet - research suggests increasing your intake of certain vitamins and minerals may help reduce your risk of getting AMD and can be beneficial if you already have it. Current advice is to eat a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Speak to your GP or ophthalmologist before taking any supplements as high doses of certain vitamins and minerals can cause significant side effects in some people.
Macular degeneration develops differently in each person and because different areas of the macula may be affected, symptoms can vary from person to person.
In the early stages your central vision may be blurred or distorted, with straight lines such as the sides of a window frame looking wavy or fuzzy and objects looking an unusual size or shape.
Reading, watching TV, driving, recognising faces or differentiating between numbers with a similar shape may be difficult depending on how severe the damage is. Any blurring is not corrected by wearing glasses or changing your prescription.
You may also notice that:• you need stronger light when reading;• colours appear less vibrant;• a blank patch or a dark spot that gets larger with time affects your central vision.
Symptoms may appear suddenly with the wet form, so if you experience a sudden change in your central vision, book an emergency appointment with your optician or go to your local A&E department. Seeking help quickly will reduce the risk of permanent damage to your vision.
Symptoms can develop slowly with the dry form. It can affect both eyes, although one eye may be affected several years before the other. When only one eye is affected, your good eye will usually compensate for any blurring or loss of vision in the affected eye. This can make it difficult to recognise symptoms in the early stages.
If you have the dry form, you can experience the wet form too.
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