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Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in those aged 65 and over in Australia. When it affects older adults, the condition is referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Macular degeneration happens in stages, so it's critical to know its symptoms and risk factors. If you can identify the signs of macular degeneration, you can take action and seek help from an eye doctor before the condition escalates.


What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is a degenerative condition that affects the macula, which is the central part of the retina. This results in the distortion or loss of central vision. If the condition progresses to the final and most severe stage, it will become one of two types of AMD — dry macular degeneration or wet macular degeneration.

With the dry version, the tissue in your macula gradually thins and loses the cells responsible for vision. The wet version, on the other hand, occurs due to a fibrovascular membrane growing under the retina. This could potentially lead to localised retinal detachment. Between the two, wet macular degeneration can result in more significant vision loss. Fortunately, dry macular degeneration is the far more common type of this disease.


The stages of Macular Degeneration

As stated above, age-related macular degeneration is a degenerative condition. There are three stages of AMD based on the number of drusen on the retina.

Drusen are tiny yellow or white spots made up of proteins and fatty substances. They're not visible to the naked eye, but they can be identified by an eye doctor during an exam. They're the defining feature of AMD, as they can result in central vision loss and indicate what stage of age-related macular degeneration you're experiencing.  

1. Early stage During this initial stage, the quantity of drusen on the retina is comparatively low, and noticeable symptoms are unlikely.

2. Intermediate stage  The quantity of drusen is higher than it was in the early stage. People in the intermediate stage of AMD may begin experiencing vision loss.

3. Later stage: In the later stage of AMD, the quantity of drusen is quite high. This will lead to very noticeable symptoms, namely central vision loss. It's at this point that AMD will be split into the dry type or wet type.

  • Dry type: This type of AMD is quite common in terms of age and begins with very minor symptoms. With the increase in age, these minor symptoms continue to increase in their effect/size. This increase can also lead to the wet type of AMD. The cells of light-sensitivity in the macula gradually collapse affecting the central visual field of the eye. Considering the gradual increase of the dry type, it is imperative for this type of AMD to occur generally via genetics thereby proving dry AMD one of the main causes for vision loss in those who are older.
  • Wet type: The growth of blood vessels becomes irregular due to the leakage of blood and fluid below the macula. This leads to an injury of the retina and also the damage of light-sensitive cells that form the macula. The irregular growth of blood vessels can also result in to their growth across the retina. The magnitude of vision loss tends to be more in Wet AMD than Dry AMD as mentioned above. The occurrence of vision loss in this type is mostly dramatic.

Factors that lead to macular degeneration

Though the exact cause of AMD isn't certain, it appears to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are many things that can increase your risk of developing AMD, including:

  • Genetics
  • Smoking
  • Old age (75+)
  • Obesity
  • High intake of fats
  • High levels of cholesterol
  • Increased exposure to sunlight

Signs and symptoms of macular degeneration

Macular degeneration symptoms may become more noticeable and diagnosable as the patient ages, and the condition worsens. The symptoms may also vary depending on the type of AMD. That said, here are a few common symptoms that tend to occur across different types and stages of AMD:

  • Blank spots
  • Inaccurate central vision
  • Loss of focus in near distances, such as reading
  • Blurriness in central vision

If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms, contact an eye doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible.


How macular degeneration affects vision

Macular degeneration causes disturbances in vision. However, people with AMD can still see fairly well. The key difference between good vision and macular degeneration vision is that the latter limits sharp vision — the type normally used to view fine details. This can make activities like sewing, driving, and reading difficult. In the later stages, recognising faces can also become challenging.


How to prevent/treat macular degeneration

There is currently no treatment or cure for advanced dry AMD. That's why it's essential to seek out professional help before the condition progresses to the later stage. If your eye doctor catches your AMD in the early or intermediate stage, there are forms of macular degeneration treatments they can attempt. Depending on the state of your AMD, your treatment plan could include:

  • A formula of antioxidant vitamins and zinc
  • Photodynamic therapy for wet macular degeneration
  • Vision rehabilitation and low vision aids

Given the limited treatment options for AMD, it's wise to find ways of reducing your risk of developing the condition in the first place. If you haven't already done so, you should quit smoking and try to live a healthier lifestyle. Another thing you can do is to protect your eyes from overexposure to sunlight by wearing hats and sunglasses.

Get your eyes checked with 1001 Optometry

Are you worried that you may be suffering from macular degeneration? If so, our professional optometrists and eyewear experts can help you. With 1001 Optometry, you can book an eye test from one of our 15+ locations across Victoria and New South Wales, and receive a referral to an ophthalmologist. We also carry a wide range of high-quality eyewear and stunning glasses frames from top brands, all at affordable prices.

If you need assistance booking an eye test or have any questions about our men's and women's glasses, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can contact our friendly and knowledgeable team by calling +61 2 9439 9912, emailing, or completing our online enquiry form. We hope to hear from you soon.


How is macular degeneration diagnosed?

An eye care professional may perform several tests and exams to diagnose AMD and determine the form and severity of the condition, such as:

  • Dilated eye exam
  • Visual acuity test
  • Fundoscopy
  • Fundus photography
  • Amsler grid

If your doctor suspects wet AMD, they may perform a fluorescein angiography. This is a test in which dye is used to locate leaking blood vessels.

Can you drive with macular degeneration?

Many people with AMD continue to drive, often with the assistance of low vision aids. That said, there are definitely people with AMD who can't drive due to severe vision loss. Whether or not you can still drive with AMD will depend on the severity of your condition and the driving laws in your region. Even if you think you're okay to drive, you should still consult with your eye doctor to be sure.

How can you reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration?

A healthier lifestyle overall may help reduce your risk of macular degeneration. This includes:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Keeping blood pressure in a normal range
  • Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruit, and fish
  • Avoiding food that may spike your blood sugar

Can you wear contact lenses with macular degeneration?

You shouldn't have any problems wearing contact lenses, even if you have macular degeneration.

Can macular degeneration cause blindness?

Macular degeneration can cause blindness, but this is only in severe cases.

Is macular degeneration painful?

No, macular degeneration is completely painless. The only symptoms people usually experience are loss of central vision, blurriness, blind spots, and things of that nature.

Is macular degeneration treatment covered under Medicare?

Yes, Medicare provides considerable benefits for various items related to macular degeneration disease treatment. You may be able to claim benefits on prescription glasses, sunglasses, and more. Your initial eye test may also be covered under Medicare, though you should confirm this by contacting the store where you intend on getting the test done.