Act early to save your sight
One in seven Australians over the age of 50 show signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and the late form of the disease is the most common cause of severe vision impairment.
Although the exact mechanism is unclear, scientists know that AMD damages the central area of the retina (the macula), making it difficult for the patient to drive, read or recognise faces.
“Everyone over 50, especially those with a family history of AMD, should ask to have their macula checked when they go for routine check-ups. If you have been told that you have the early signs of AMD, then checking the vision in both eyes separately can pick up the earliest suggestion that there may be a more advanced form of the disease, needing further evaluation” said Professor Robyn Guymer, Centre for Eye Research Australia.
“Put a test grid (such as the Amsler Grid) on the fridge at home and check each eye to make sure the lines are clear and straight, not squiggly or blurry. If you notice new changes, see your optometrist or GP urgently.”
A two-yearly check-up with your optometrist can also help detect early changes to the macula, before noticeable vision loss occurs.
The more severe ‘wet’ form of AMD causes rapid, vision loss, which is irreversible if left untreated. Drugs are now available which can be injected into the eye to slow, or in some cases reverse the vision loss from this devastating complication. The other type of late stage disease, called ‘dry AMD’ progresses slowly, but there are no effective treatments, although clinical trials are starting with novel interventions.
Professor Guymer and her team are working on a trial of a new early intervention, involving laser therapy to treat AMD in its preliminary stage. The Australian-designed (Ellex) nanosecond laser showed promising results in a 2010 pilot study and a 3-year multi-centred trial is now underway. Sites are recruiting in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and soon Adelaide, and in Northern Ireland, with over 100 patients enrolled so far.
For more information on Macular Degeneration Awareness Week visit www.mdfoundation.com.au