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  • Julie Cheney RN

Sights are set on Macular Degeneration

​According to the Macular Disease Foundation Australia, Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of major vision loss in Australia. Macular degeneration is not a single disease. Like dementia it is an umbrella term for a group of chronic diseases that effect the retina in the eye. The degeneration causes progressive loss of vision in the centre of the line of vision, leaving the peripheral or side vision intact. Some people describe it as a feeling that there is a 'large black blob' in the centre of your vision, leading to sights such as the Opera House, shown below, losing a lot of its iconic form, and making it hard to understand objects and depth. It affects the ability to basic tasks like read, drive, recognise faces and do any activities that require any detail in your vision.

About 1.25 million people aged 50 years and over have signs of macular degeneration, and it can also occur in younger people, There are 2 forms: wet and dry.

In the dry form people experience a gradual loss of central vision. Diet and lifestyle and the use of an appropriate supplement, can help slow disease progression and vision loss, but there is otherwise no treatment.

In the wet form, additional blood vessels grow in the retina and obscure vision. Treatments include regular injections into the eye and cannot cure the disease, but are aimed at keeping it stable and less likely to progress.

If you have history in your family of sudden blindness or of slow deterioration in the central vision, you should be alert to your risks. Its around 50% for those of us with such a history. Our family is one of those with the genetic link, so we are very conscious of the problem, and taking steps for prevention.

So what can you be doing to help yourself and to reduce your risks? The quicker you detect your vision is changing and seek help, the more likely treatments can make a difference to its progression. So seek an optometrist/doctor to refer you to an ophthalmologist as soon as you become aware of something in your central vision. Then there's the usual things - stop smoking, you have 3 times the risk if you smoke, and minimise alcohol. Protect your eyes from sun damage/glare, and exercise and maintain weight to keep blood pressure down.

The nutritional options are similar to any health-full diet but specific foods such as dark green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach and silverbeet) and a range of other vegetables (peas, pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, corn and beans) contain Lutein and zeaxanthin which are nutrients found in healthy macula. Oily fish, seeds and nuts, vitamins c, e and zinc rich foods also are likely to increase eye health. There are studies that have shown supplements of these nutrients are a positive addition to health of the eyes. There are combinations which provide specific formulations of the doses of nutrients shown as most beneficial based on research called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS).

Additional funding was announced for the Foundation in May 2018 by the federal government, to support an Action Plan for a National approach to this significant problem for Australians in their later years. Such planning is aimed at better mapping consistent research, treatment and care processes for patients.

With our eyes considered the 'windows to the soul', take care of them. Eat good foods, seek wellness and love your eyes.

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