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What is macular degeneration?

Don’t turn a blind eye to problems with your vision.

By Donna Fleming
One of the grand dames of the acting world has admitted she has to have her scripts read to her – because she’s losing her eyesight. Dame Judi Dench has revealed that she has age-related macular degeneration, an eye condition which has caused her vision to deteriorate to the point where she finds it difficult to read and even make out the faces of people sitting opposite her in dim restaurants.
The Oscar winner hopes injections she’s had will halt the progress of the condition and she says she won’t go blind. Judi (77) is not alone – agerelated macular degeneration (AMD) is a common condition that affects around one in every seven people over the age of 50 and is the leading cause of severe vision loss.
What is macular degeneration? It’s the deterioration of the macula, the tissue at the back of your eye that performs detailed visual tasks like reading. It begins to break down and affects your sharp central vision (as opposed to your peripheral vision).
There are two types of AMD. Dry AMD, the most common, comes on gradually in older people and does not usually cause severe vision loss. Wet AMD causes sudden loss of vision and is much more aggressive, possibly causing blindness. Immediate treatment is needed to prevent sight loss.
What causes it? Doctors are not entirely sure, although they think genetic and environmental factors may play a part. They do know that your risk is greater if you have a family history of AMD, and if you smoke you are three times as likely to get it as a non-smoker. Obesity and high blood pressure may also increase your risk.
How do you know you've got it? Many people don’t realise they have it until the symptoms become hard to ignore. You may notice it’s more difficult to make out words when you read and there may be blank areas, or
a grey or black spot in the centre of your vision.
If straight lines appear bent this can be a sign of wet AMD and you should get medical attention immediately. Early detection and treatment can help slow the deterioration and may even stop it, so it is important to have regular eye tests, which can pick up AMD.
What's the treatment?
There are medications that can help with both wet and dry AMD. Making lifestyle changes can also help with dry AMD. These include giving up smoking and changing your diet. Some studies show that making sure you get adequate amounts of certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and E, zinc and selenium, may help.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also help to slow down the deterioration, so including oily fish and nuts in your diet is a good idea.
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