This May, we are urging everyone in your family to consider their eye health.

Early action with macular degeneration can save sight. If you are in a higher risk group – over the age of 50, with a family history of the disease (Age-Related Macular Degeneration – AMD) and smokers – visit your optometrist for a comprehensive eye test, including a macula check.

What is a macula and how does it help you see?

The front of your eye is made up of the cornea, iris, pupil and lens. These work together to focus an image onto the retina, which is at the back of your eye.

The retina captures images and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve which interprets them into what we see.

The macula is at the centre of the retina, and about 5 mm in diameter. It is the part of your eye that is responsible or details in the centre of your vision and your colour vision. So you use your macula when you are reading, driving and recognising faces of people.

What is macular degeneration disease?

Macular degeneration disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia. It is characterised by the distortion or absence of the central field of vision.

There is no cure for AMD (Age-related macular degeneration) but treatment aims to preserve vision for as long as possible. AMD is most prevalent in people aged 50 years and over.

Why do I need to check my macula?

One in seven people over the age of 50 have signs of age-related macular degeneration.

If you have diabetes and you’re over 50, you have a one in three chance of having diabetic retinopathy.

Knowing your risks, and having regular macula checks, is the only way to protect your vision.

Risk factors

AMD is related to ageing and affects people over 50 years of age. However, age-related macular degeneration is not a normal or inevitable consequence of ageing. If you are having difficulty with your vision, don’t dismiss it as just a part of getting older. Get an eye check as soon as possible.

Another key risk factor is family history, which is associated with an increased chance of developing AMD. If you have a direct family relative (parent or sibling) with AMD, you have a 50% risk of developing it also.

The other two major risk factors are smoking and not having regular eye checks.

Smoking is a risk factor for many diseases, including macular disease. People who smoke are at a greater risk of developing AMD and diabetic eye disease. They’re also at increased risk of vision loss.

Regular eye checks are important

Having eye checks regularly, including a check of your macula, will detect disease in its early stages.  These checks are more important after you turn 50.

How do you know if you have age-related macular degeneration?

You can have early signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) without knowing. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye checks.  During the early and intermediate stages, you may not notice any symptoms.

However, once the disease progresses, symptoms include:

  • difficulty reading or any other activity which requires fine vision, even when wearing glasses
  • distortion, where straight lines appear wavy or bent
  • difficulty distinguishing faces
  • dark or blurred patches in the centre of your vision
Diagnosing AMD

Early detection of age-related macular degeneration is crucial to saving sight.

The only way to diagnose AMD in the early stages is through an eye examination, including a check of the macula. This can be done by your optometrist, who may use tests including:

  • Eye examination – including checking the clearness of vision with a letter chart and testing of your visual field
  • Dilation of the pupil – with special drops so they can look at your retina
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) – a special camera is used to take a detailed photograph of your retina.
How does the OCT camera work?

The OCT machine uses a non-invasive laser to take an image of the layers of your retina and optic nerve.  It can effectively view and capture detailed, accurate images.

The OCT exam is:

  • Non-invasive
  • Painless
  • Quick
  • Has minimal health risks
  • Has no radiation

Your optometrist can see the results straight away and discuss the results with you during your appointment.