Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects a person's central vision (their ability to see what is directly in front of them). AMD affects about 20 to 25 million people worldwide. It's the leading cause of blindness and major vision loss in Australia, with approximately 1 in 7 Australians over 50 having some evidence of macular degeneration.
When light travels through your pupil it's focused onto your retina, which is located at the back of your eye. The retina sends signals to your brain that are interpreted as vision.
The macula is a small spot (about 0.5 cm wide) in the centre of the retina that processes sharp, clear vision. When you look directly at something, light is focused on the macula, allowing you to see fine detail and colour.
If you develop AMD, the macula cells become damaged, leading to gradual loss of your central vision.
There are two main types of AMD.
AMD often affects both your eyes although it may affect one eye before the other. You may not notice at first as the ‘good’ eye compensates for the ‘bad’ eye. This masks any deterioration in vision .
AMD isn't a painful condition. Symptoms may happen slowly over several months, but sometimes they develop more quickly. They include:
If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP or optometrist.
AMD doesn't usually lead to complete blindness. You still have your peripheral vision, the ability to see to the sides. However, it can lead to substantial vision loss if it's left untreated. This is why it's very important to visit your GP or optometrist if you have any symptoms.
No one knows exactly what causes AMD although it's more common as you get older. However, there are a number of factors that can make you more likely to develop AMD. These include:
Your doctor or optometrist will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may also ask you about your medical history.
AMD may be detected during routine eye tests by your optometrist. They can check your level of vision and examine your macula using instruments to look inside your eye, sometimes using eye drops.
If AMD is suspected, you will be referred to an ophthalmologist (a specialist in identifying and treating eye conditions).
You may have other tests, including:
Treatment for dry AMD focuses on helping you live with AMD and preventing it from getting worse.
There are a number of things you can try that may help with your AMD. If you carry out close, detailed work you can use visual aids to make the best use of your vision. This includes equipment such as advanced magnifying glasses and reading lights. You may also find software that reads out text or displays large text helpful.
An occupational therapist can help identify suitable aids to make every day activities easier in and around your home.
Vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene and the mineral zinc may help to slow down the progression of AMD. Ask your ophthalmologist whether these supplements are suitable for you. They or your pharmacist can also provide advice about the correct dose and any potential side effects.
Anti-VEGF medicines are injected into your eye. They work by stopping new blood vessels growing, which can help prevent wet AMD from progressing and may even restore some lost vision.
Anti-VEGF medicines available in Australia include:
These medicines are only thought to be effective if they're used during the early stages of the disease. You may need to have injections every one to two months to begin with.
Always ask your ophthalmologist or pharmacist for advice. Read the consumer medicines information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
PDT doesn't restore vision, but it helps stop wet AMD from getting worse. Your ophthalmologist injects a special light-sensitive dye into your arm, which travels to your retina. They can then focus a low-power laser on the macular area of the retina, destroying abnormal blood vessels without affecting the surrounding tissue.
You may need to have this treatment every three months if the blood vessels behind your retina continue to bleed.
Laser treatment may be used rarely in the early stages of AMD to try and limit its progress. Heat from the laser destroys the blood vessels causing wet AMD.
Researchers are also looking into the benefits of stem cell therapy, combined therapy, gene therapy and surgical treatments for AMD. Your ophthalmologist will be able to provide more information on which treatment may be right for you.
You can help reduce your chances of developing AMD by:
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Last updated: 31 July 2013
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