What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration (MD) is a progressive eye disease in which the photoreceptors at the macular start to deteriorate and die due to the breakdown of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This causes a build-up of retinal metabolic waste that clinically appears as yellow spots, called drusen.
The retina is the layer at the back of the eye which has light-sensitive pigment cells called photoreceptors. The macula is a small area of the retina where you focus an image of what you are looking at. It has the highest concentration of photoreceptors which provide us with our best eyesight ability and give us our colour perception. Underneath the macular is special layer called the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This layer provides nutrients and oxygen to the photoreceptor cells and removes the retinal metabolic waste products. As the photoreceptor cells are firing all the time while your eyes are open, they require lots of nutrients and produce lots of waste products.
MD results in the loss of central vision and has the potential to severely impact our daily lives by affecting our ability to read, drive, recognise faces and discriminate fine detail.
There are two main forms of macular degeneration: commonly known as ‘dry’ and ‘wet’.
- Dry MD: Characterised by a slow, progressive loss of the RPE cells due to the build up of drusen at the macula. This makes up about 85% of moderate to advanced MD cases resulting in a gradual deterioration of the central vision. Diet and a special formulation of vitamins and high-dose antioxidants, such as MD eyes have been shown to slow down the progression of MD in those with moderate to advanced MD in at least one eye.
- Wet MD: This affects about two-thirds of advanced MD patients. This occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the macular and these vessels can spontaneously bleed, leading to a sudden loss of vision requiring immediate medical treatment. Treatment often requires regular injections to shrink the blood vessels.
It is important to note that dry MD can convert to the wet form of MD, which then requires prompt treatment. It is essential for all MD patients to monitor their macular quite closely with an Amsler Grid (seen on right), and to see their eye health professional regularly.
In Australia, approximately one in seven over the age of 50 have some element of MD which then contributes to 50% of all legal blindness.
We are seeing this more frequently because we are living longer, not always eating the right foods and not exercising regularly.
What causes Macular Degeneration?
- Family history of MD
Ways to promote macular health:
- After 50 yrs of age old have your eyes and macular checked regularly every two years by your optometrist.
- Abstain from smoking.
- Have a well-balanced diet: include fresh fruit and vegetables (especially green leafy vegetables) daily, oily fish 2 to 3 times a week handful of nuts a week, and limit fat intake and high-GI carbohydrates.
- Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight.
- Have adequate sun protection for your eyes.
For more information on Macular Degeneration visit the Australian Macular Disease Foundation website.