Eye Health - Macular

Presently there is no cure for AMD; and treatments to delay or stop its progression have met with limited success; so there is increasing interest in identifying risk factors which, when modified, may reduce the chance of getting AMD, or stop the condition becoming worse when it does occur.

A family history of macular degeneration gives us a 50% chance of developing the disease - as a consequence the theme this year for Macular Degeneration Week was "keep your family in the picture". We can’t do too much to change our parents, so if one or both of your parents has or had AMD, a regular and frequent check up by your optometrist or eye specialist is important for early diagnosis and the best available treatment.

On the other hand, prevention strategies are essential. Something we can address is a commitment to become a non-smoker. Many studies have clearly demonstrated the link between smoking and AMD. Also, there is ongoing debate about the relationship between AMD and obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels; but research certainly suggests that diet is significant.

In particular the likelihood is that the pigments beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin found in carrots, pumpkin, corn and some green leafy vegetables are beneficial. Other antioxidants of interest include vitamins A and E and the trace elements zinc and selenium.

Proprietary preparations containing these substances are now available, but the use of anti-oxidants in high doses is not without risk. Beta-carotene has been found to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers; and vitamin E has been associated with an increased risk of heart failure in people with diabetes or disease affecting circulation. Check with your pharmacist before you choose a specific product.

On the other hand, there is evidence that fish oil (containing so-called omega-3 fatty acids) might provide protection against AMD. So, the Macular Degeneration Foundation advises eating fish two or three times a week, eating dark-green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit, eating a handful of nuts once a week and protecting your eyes from sunlight exposure; and of course, if you’re a smoker, then quit! You can get more good advice from the Foundation at www.mdfoundation.com.au Check out their publication Slips, Trips and Falls. It's an excellent guide for people with low vision on how to avoid some of the inevitable problems.

Keeping Your Family In The Picture

It seems there are many more health issues to consider than there are weeks in the year; so it's probably no surprise that some days and weeks have to be shared around. For instance the recent World No Tobacco Day fell squarely in the middle of Macular Degeneration Awareness Week.

Nevertheless, these two events are a very comfortable fit; because smokers and people who have smoked are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration (MD) – sometimes known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) because of its high prevalence in older people – is the name given to a group of diseases of the retina which cause progressive, painless loss of central vision. Thus the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces is slowly but surely lost. It's the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Australia and other Western countries.