SLOWING AMD: Some of the latest AMD treatments may achieve an improvement in a person's vision or slow down its progression.
SLOWING AMD: Some of the latest AMD treatments may achieve an improvement in a person's vision or slow down its progression. Bill Oxford

Do you think you have macular degeneration?

DISTORTED central vision in one or both eyes can be a sign of the early stages of Age Related Macular Degeneration or AMD.

Reading and writing becomes difficult and the faces around you seem to be blurry, while your side vision can still be clear. It's the retina in your eye that is being affected. It's the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye, like the film in an old-fashioned camera, which is degenerating.

People with the highest risk of acquiring AMD are aged 60 and over, have a family history of AMD or are smokers. Other risk factors are hypertension, cardiovascular disease, poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity.

It is unlikely AMD can completely be reversed, but some of the latest treatments may achieve an improvement in a person's vision or slow down its progression.

Reduce the risk

Adjusting the variable risk factors is the first place to start says Optometry Australia's chief clinical officer Luke Arundel. "We can't stop ageing, but smoking is by far the easiest one to modify," Mr Arundel said. "Try a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, fish and lots of antioxidants. If your dietary intake is inadequate, consider taking nutritional supplements after discussing your GP."

"We are all living longer so it's super important to retain good vision for as long as possible," he added.

Getting regular eye checks by your optometrist is critical to detecting the onset of AMD and then effectively managing its progression.

Mr Arundel recommends making this a yearly promise to yourself to get checked.

Some of the optometry AMD diagnosis techniques are retinal examination, optical coherence tomography (a machine which can image layers in the retina not visible to the human eye), visual field testing and photographing the retina.

New treatments

There isn't a cure for AMD, but there is a new AMD management choice. It's an injection into the back of the eye to stop new blood vessel growth.

As AMD progresses new blood vessels can start to grow under the retina, and they can leak fluid or blood, causing other problems. "These new drugs slow down the blood vessels growing," Mr Arundel said. In some cases, a person's vision may improve after this treatment.

Other management choices for the abnormal blood vessels are lasering of the blood vessels to seal them and destroy any that are leaking, and photodynamic therapy which involves injection of a light-sensitive drug ahead of laser treatment.

"These drugs have been an absolute godsend for some of the more advanced cases of AMD which have been able to be treated," he said. "Researchers have also been doing some interesting new work with laser treatment and drops instead of injections. There are many clinical trials underway looking at slowing, preventing and reversing the effects of AMD."

Proactive monitoring

AMD patients can use an Amsler Grid at home to self-test the state of their condition. An optometrist can provide the grid and show you how to use it.

"If we see someone with early AMD, we will say you have early signs and these are the things you need to be thinking about - UV protection, cessing smoking, diet and nutritional supplements," Mr Arundel said. "Check at home once a week.

"While wearing your reading glasses and looking at the grid, cover up one eye and then do the same with the other eye. If you are seeing wavy or distorted lines, go back to your optometrist straight away.

"The earlier we get onto any of these changes with treatment, the better the prognosis."

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