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Focus on macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is a condition which typically affects older people and can lead to the loss of your central vision. Although it doesn’t cause complete blindness it can make everyday tasks such as reading and driving much more difficult.

There are two different forms of macular degeneration – wet and dry – and although the symptoms can be similar the cause and effect are quite different.

Both refer to damage caused to the macula, an area of light-sensitive cells in the retina responsible for helping you to see fine detail when you look straight ahead. 

Dry macular degeneration

Dry macular degeneration is the most common of the two. It happens when the light receptor cells in the macular start to deteriorate and lose function. Its progress is normally slow and in the early stages can have little or no symptoms. This can lead to the loss of patches of your central vision, which are normally small initially, and can sometimes be helped by increasing magnification in your spectacles. In more advanced cases, the damaged patches get bigger resulting in increased central vision loss.

Although there is no cure, there are lots of ways we can help patients who have dry macular degeneration. In the early stages a change in the prescription for your glasses can help. Also aids such magnifiers and large print text can make reading easier as symptoms progress.

Because it develops slowly, many people adapt to the changes without even realising they are doing it. Looking slightly to the side of the object or word you are trying to read can ‘shift’ the image to part of the macular that is still working (something called eccentric fixation), and increasing light levels for detailed work. 

Often, we find that patients need increased lighting for reading and near vision tasks indoors but are sensitive to bright light outside. Sometimes the correct colour and depth tint to your spectacle lenses can help. 

Ultimately, our team can also refer patients to the low vision clinic at the hospital for further support.

Keeping fit and healthy can certainly help, too. Eat a good diet with plenty of green vegetables which help promote healthy photo receptors and layers in the retina. We also stock supplements which although do not reverse symptoms, can help to stop them getting worse.

Patients are also advised to limit their exposure to UV light by wearing sunglasses, even on bright winter days. We can also include UV protection in your normal day-to-day glasses.

Wet macular degeneration

Wet macular degeneration is less common and can lead to rapid severe sight loss. 

However, the good news is it is treatable if caught early. It is caused by leaky blood vessels in the retina which in turn cause damage to the macula. A classic symptom of wet macular degeneration is that when you look at straight lines on a page, they appear wavy.

If a patient is at risk of wet macular degeneration, we will provide them with a printed grid and ask them to look at it once a week. If they start to notice the lines appear to be wavy we ask them to draw what they see onto the grid and come back to see us for further assessment.

Patients with developing wet macular degeneration will be referred urgently to the hospital and often treated with injections. If caught early enough, this treatment is excellent, and can stop the symptoms progressing further.

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