What is macular degeneration?
The macula is part of the back of the eye (the retina) responsible for vision needed in detailed activities such as reading and writing, and is also involved in our ability to appreciate colour. Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working. We do not know why this is, although it tends to happen as people get older. This is called age-related macular degeneration. It usually affects both eyes, although not always at the same time.
What are the symptoms?
Macular degeneration is not painful and never leads to total blindness. In the early stages your central vision may be blurred or distorted. This may happen quickly or develop over several months. People with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot at the centre of their sight, making reading, writing and recognising small objects or faces very difficult.
Can I be helped to see better?
There are a variety of optical aids which may help you to see better. They aim to make larger images of objects you are looking at and use parts of the retina which are not affected. These range from brighter reading lights and simple magnifying lenses to more sophisticated equipment. The simpler magnifiers are available at high street opticians or you may be referred to a hospital low vision clinic via your doctor.
What research is going on?
There is a great deal of research looking into the causes of macular degeneration and how it can be treated. There are certain types of medical therapy can slow/halt the condition, and a new drug Lucentis is causing a lot of excitement. Dietary factors are also thought to be important in the prevention of macular degeneration. Current research suggests that foods containing antioxidants are beneficial in this area. Two antioxidants, known as carotenoids (the pigments which give fruits and vegetables their colour) are called Lutein and Zeaxanthin. They are found in vegetables such as spinach or kale (seaweed).
With thanks to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the RNIB.