VISION HEALTH: An older man uses an illuminated magnifying glass to help him read because he suffers from Wet macular degeneration.
VISION HEALTH: An older man uses an illuminated magnifying glass to help him read because he suffers from Wet macular degeneration. ClarkandCompany

Spotting the warning signs can help with AMD

EARLY detection can make all the difference to losing your vision due to the onset of the sight-inhibiting disease, age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

It's the most common condition to lead to irreversible vision loss for Australians aged 60 and over says AMD specialist Dr Matthew Russell.

Macular tissue forms part of the retina which captures the image within our eye and provides our detailed central vision. When AMD occurs, two distinct diseases are diagnosed - Dry and Wet.

Dry MD

  • It's a slow degeneration of the macular tissue.
  • The central vision becomes gradually damaged.
  • It leads to not being able to read, recognise faces and perform day-to-day tasks.
  • The condition is irreversible.

"Many people who have Dry macular degeneration don't go onto develop severe vision loss," Dr Russell said. "They may have no vision impairment, mild vision impairment or moderate. A few people do go onto develop severe vision loss."

There is no treatment to slow down the progression of Dry AMD.

Wet MD

  • It's the blurring or distortion of the central vision.
  • It develops rapidly over weeks or months.
  • Abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the central part of the macular causing fluid leakage and bleeding.
  • It stops you from carrying anything requiring detailed vision.
  • Untreated, it can lead to profound loss of vision in a short timeframe.

Some patients can find their vision restored once they start treatment, if it is detected and treated in its early stages.

Treatment includes drugs and taking AREDS2 supplements which are antioxidants found in Omega-3 (salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines), Vitamin C (citrus fruits, berries, kiwi, tomatoes and capsicum), lutein and zeaxanthin (dark leafy vegetables-kale, spinach, broccoli, silver beet, pumpkin, peas, corn and beans), zinc (seafood), Vitamin E (nuts and seeds) and selenium (Brazil nuts, mushrooms, oats and brown rice).

These supplements are known to reduce the risk of developing AMD of people who are at risk of the disease by about 25 per cent over a five-year period Dr Russell says.

Self-monitoring through the use of an Amsler grid, checking each eye separately on a regular basis, can help to detect further decline in vision.

"With drug treatment I have many patients who living completely full normal lives, maintaining their driver's licence," Dr Russell says. The drug treatment involves injections into the eye. "Almost universally, the treatment can be performed without any discomfort whatsoever and with a very low rate of side effects."

Eye health

Don't assume a significant change in your vision is caused by cataracts or a change in your prescription says Dr Russell. He recommends immediately visiting your optometrist for a thorough eye health examination.

If you are over 60, you should have your eyes checked every 12 months by a qualified optometrist who can do a physical examination of your eyes including imaging.

"It's not sufficient to have pictures taken of the eye," Dr Russell says. "While imaging is very good at detecting macular diseases, it's not good at assessing the entire health of the eye."

"Even if you don't have Dry macular degeneration it's important to consider lifestyle and nutritional factors that may increase your risk of developing it, but which can protect you later in life," Dr Russell says. "They are a diet high in leafy green vegetables, Omega-3 supplements, protection from sunlight, and smoking which is a significant lifestyle factor involved in the development of macular degeneration."


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