Optometry Blog

Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration

There has been quite a bit of advertising lately outlining the importance of having your macula checked.  You may be wondering, what and where exactly is your macula?

The macula is a part of the retina, which is the light sensitive tissue at the back of your eye.  If you think of your eye as being like a camera, the retina is like the film (or the CCD if you want to think in digital terms) – it’s the part that receives the light and begins the process of turning it into sight.  The macula is located in the centre of the retina and is responsible for your central vision.  It provides high resolution vision which allows you to see fine details, and is also involved in providing colour vision.

Whenever you read, drive, watch TV, recognise a face, thread a needle or perform countless other tasks, you’re using your macula.  If it’s not working well, these tasks become difficult, if not impossible.

So, why should a macula not be working well?  The most common reason is macular degeneration, a condition in which the macula basically begins to ‘wear out’ with age.  The reason the macula is able to provide fine detailed vision is that there are very many densely packed photoreceptor cells in the region.  To use the digital camera analogy again, this is a bit like having a high number of mega-pixels.  These cells are very active metabolically and therefore require a lot of looking after.  Sometimes as the eye ages the retina’s ‘support system’ is not quite able to keep up with the macula’s demands and consequently damage begins to occur, leading to a decline in vision.

Whilst the effects of macular degeneration can be devastating, the early signs and symptoms are often very subtle and/or gradual and as a result are often missed.  This is why having regular eye examinations is so important.  While there is no cure for macular degeneration there are treatments that can sometimes slow or even reverse the condition, and these treatments are much more effective when used in the early stages.

So how common is macular degeneration?  In Australia one in seven people over the age of fifty is affected in some way with the condition, and this increases to one in four over the age of sixty-five and one in three amongst those over eighty.

As these numbers suggest, the primary risk factor is age however a family history of the disease also significantly increases risk.  Whilst there is little anybody can do about these two issues there are significant preventable risk factors, primarily smoking.  Smokers are 2.5 times more likely to develop macular degeneration than those who have never smoked.  Sunlight exposure, especially when young, is also thought to be a risk factor, while a healthy lifestyle and/or diet can have a protective effect.

To minimise your risk of macular degeneration it’s important to avoid smoking, to protect your eyes from the sun, to eat a healthy diet including fish, eggs and green leafy vegetables and to stay active and healthy.  It’s particularly important to have your eyes tested regularly by an optometrist or ophthalmologist so that your macula can be checked.

For a comprehensive eyetest (including macula assessment) which is bulk-billed to Medicare you can see Geoff at Clear Optometry by calling to make an appointment on 4130 5099 or dropping in to the practice at shops 11 & 12, 1-5 Bauer Street.  No referral is necessary.