Protecting your eyes from Macular Degeneration

Macular Week is the annual week-long event organised by the Macular Society to raise awareness for eye health and macular conditions. This year, Vision Express sent out the Vision Van to various locations around the country to provide free eye tests and increase public knowledge on all macular conditions and how to prevent them.

What is the Macula?

The Macula is located at the back of the eye upon the retina. The retina is a light sensitive surface that lines the inside of the eye. It is responsible for recreating the image of the world upon. It has a complex makeup of nerves, synapses, and both rod and cone shaped photoreceptor cells that are designed to capture light and variances in colour. All this information is sent to the brain via the optic nerve creating sight. At the centre of the retina is the macula which is responsible for central and fine detail vision or high-acuity vision. The macula helps us with a range of activities such as reading, writing, driving and recognising faces by giving us detailed central vision. Whilst the retina is red, the macula is more yellow in colour, which allows it to absorb more blue and ultraviolet light acting as the eye’s natural sunblock. Typically a loss of central vision is usually a result of a problem with the maculae. Unlike a loss in peripheral vision, problems with central vision are usually more easily identified.

What is Macular Degeneration?

Macular degeneration also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD for short) is a condition that leads to a loss in central vision. As a result of aging, the cells in the retina begin to die off and are unable to regenerate. The progression of AMD is painless, which can make it difficult to detect early on. AMD is the largest cause of visual loss in the developed world. In the UK AMD affects over 600,000 people, with an average of 200 new cases diagnosed every day. It is most common in people over the age of 60. There are two types of AMD:

  • Dry AMD – As a result of aging, the macular tissues begin to thin out, depositing the pigment of the macula upon the retina. Dry AMD is the most common form of AMD and accounts for 90% of cases. It is most commonly identified by the build-up of yellow spots known as ‘drusen’ on the retina, which are thought to be the results of a breakdown in macular tissue.
  • Wet AMD – In rarer cases, particularly if dry AMD is left untreated, the condition will progress into wet AMD. As a result in the deterioration of the macular tissue, the body attempts to build new blood vessels underneath the macula. In doing so however, it can cause severe damage to central vision as deposits of blood and other bodily fluids begin to scar the macula itself.

Though macular degeneration is usually attributed to the process of aging. Research also suggests that there may be a hereditary element that are inherited through genetics.

How to take care of your Maculae

There is no known cure for macular degeneration, though recent advances in gene therapy are discovering potentially revolutionary ways of treating the condition. Taking care of your maculae and your eye health essentially requires the same steps you would take to maintain good health in general. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, maintenance of high levels of personal hygiene, and an avoidance of the harmful effects of smoking. These are all things that can improve the long term quality of your vision. For the macular and your eyes specifically:

  • A Healthy Diet of fruit and vegetables – A plentiful supply of antioxidants are extremely important for the eyes and the body in general. A regular intake of vitamins A, C and E can be gained by eating most fruit and vegetables, but lutein is another antioxidant that is useful for eyes. The human body is unable to make lutein, which is why it has to come from the food we eat.
  • Protect yourself from UV radiation: over exposure to sunlight without the proper precautions can lead to multiple problems in the long term. Though UV’s risk to the skin is well known, it is the effect it can have on your eyes that is less well known. Prolonged exposure of UV rays to the eye can have a harmful effect on your retinae, which is why it is important to ensure your sunglasses block 100% of UV rays.
  • Book an eye test – once every two years: The best defence against macular degeneration is an early diagnosis and the most effective means of diagnosis is to have an eye test. During your eye test, digital retinal photography can quickly give optometrists a detailed look of your macula as well as the state of your retinas at large. The average person should be getting their eyes tested at least every two years, this means that any changes in your eyes are tracked and measured.

For more information about the maculars and protecting AMD go to the Macular Society’s homepage.

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