One in seven Australians over 50 years of age has some evidence of Macular degeneration (MD) and about 17% of these will have some vision impairment

Macular degeneration (MD) is on the increase - it’s now Australia's leading cause of blindness. MD is usually related to ageing, but with the increase in the use of technology are we putting ourselves at further risk? In its earlier stages, MD does not cause any symptoms.

Why look after your macular?

If you like to see colour, see what’s straight in front of you when you drive, or like to do close work such as reading, carpentry or sewing, you’ll need a healthy macular, a small but vital part of your retina. If it thins, dead cells can create shadows and blur your vision, indicating Dry MD. If it lacks oxygen and fragile blood cells leak into your macular, you could experience the sudden and severe onset of Wet MD, which can include blindness.

Can smartphones cause macular degeneration?

With the rise of people using smartphones, tablets, flat screens and computers, opticians are warning that overuse can lead to long term eye damage.

Smartphones have blue-violet lights in them, and it’s this blue-violet light that can be potentially toxic to the back of the eye’s. Some tests have found that over exposure to blue-violet light could put us at greater risk of macular degeneration.

A survey of 2,000 people showed that those under 25 look at their phones thirty-two times a day.

It’s in your hands

There are things that you can do to reduce the risk or slow the development and lessen the impact of vision loss. If anything can convince us to adopt healthy habits it’s surely the thought that our world will go black as we age and we will be unable to see those we love fulfill their dreams. Research tells us that lifestyle factors, together with immune and genetic issues, are a significant cause in the development of MD.

When it comes to technology taking regular breaks from your computer and hand held device is important along with not bringing the device too close.

Adjustments to our diet and lifestyle are the most effective way to prevent development and a worsening of Dry MD. Fish two to three times a week, dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit daily and a handful of nuts a week are recommended by the MD Foundation. Most of us don’t eat the recommended quantity of fruit and vegetables, which of course, increases our risk of MD.  The MD Foundation also include in their recommendations healthy weight, regular exercise and no smoking - no surprises there. The MD Foundation also recommends low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates.

Beyond good diet and regular exercise, there are specific protective vitamins and minerals that slow vision loss in people diagnosed with MD. The MD Foundation suggest asking your doctor if the macular degeneration formula AREDS2 (Zinc, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Copper, Lutein and Zeaxanthin) is right for you and to ensure that your levels of vitamin D are adequate.

Of course, regular eye tests are a good idea for diagnosing MD and other eye disease. Your GP can also assist you by giving you an Amsler grid for you to check for symptoms, anytime.

What can be done to help someone manage macular degeneration?

Some people will have trouble with tasks that require the ability to see fine detail such as sewing, driving and reading. Most people affected by MD can see well enough to live independently. There are many technical aids and practical coping strategies that will help overcome the challenges of low vision.

For Wet MD, treatment involves regular injections to stabilise the vision by preventing the growth of the problem blood vessels. It’s important to get treatment early before there’s too much vision loss. New treatments such as gene therapy and stem cell treatment are being researched and/or trialed and hold much promise for the future.

Prevention is always best. You’ll be glad you took steps to preserve your vision and encouraged those around you to do the same. 

Dr Helen Hudson, Retire & Flourish

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