Macular degeneration is the name given to a group of chronic, degenerative retinal eye diseases that cause progressive loss of central vision, leaving the peripheral or side vision intact. It affects the ability to read, drive, recognise faces and perform activities that require detailed vision. Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration, is the leading cause of legal blindness and severe vision loss in Australia, responsible for 50% of all cases of blindness.
Macular degeneration is usually related to ageing and most frequently affects people over the age of 50. However, it is not a normal or inevitable consequence of ageing. Certain forms of the disease can also affect younger people.
Macular degeneration is progressive and painless and although it can lead to legal blindness, it does not result in total or 'black' blindness.
Types of macular degeneration
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet.
The dry form results in a gradual loss of central vision and although there is currently no treatment, diet and lifestyle, including the use of an appropriate supplement, can help slow disease progression and vision loss.
The wet form is characterised by a sudden loss of vision and is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina. There are a number of treatments available for wet macular degeneration. While these treatments cannot cure the disease, they aim to stabilise and maintain the best vision for as long as possible. In some people, treatment can improve vision.
Early detection is critical
The early detection of any form of macular degeneration is crucial to saving sight. Difficulty with vision should never be dismissed as just a part of getting older. In its early stages macular degeneration may not result in noticeable visual symptoms but it can be detected with an eye test.
The earlier that macular degeneration is detected the earlier that steps can be undertaken to help slow its progression and save sight through treatment and/or lifestyle modifications.
Any sudden changes to vision should be treated as a medical emergency. See an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.
About one in seven Australians – or 1.29 million people – over the age of 50 years has some evidence of this disease.
Approximately 17% of these people (over 200,000) will experience vision impairment. Almost 15% of Australians over 80 years (around 160,000) have vision loss or blindness from age-related macular degeneration.
Macular Disease Foundation Australia represents the macular disease community by advocating for improved access to treatments and low vision aids, technologies and services. To identify areas of Australia with the greatest needs, the Foundation mapped the estimated prevalence of macular degeneration in each state and federal electorate in Australia. You can help the Foundation by engaging with members of parliament in your local area. Visit the Foundation's Sight for Seniors website to view the estimated prevalence.