Age-related macular degeneration

In late May – May 21 to May 27 – there will be Macular Degeneration Awareness Week which is organized by the Macular Disease Foundation Australia (who do a tremendous job in promoting awareness and educating the public about this serious group of eye diseases).  Hence, it seems only appropriate that I write about this important topic and for this I have called on the services of a guest blogger, namely my wife Professor Erica Fletcher.  Erica has a Personal Chair in the Faculty of the Medicine at the University of Melbourne and she is a world renowned expert on the topic of macular disease.  Over to you Erica …


One in seven people over the age of 50 have the signs of early age related macular degeneration (AMD) and in this group one in seven may develop advanced vision threatening forms of the disease.  A decade ago, a diagnosis of wet age related macular degeneration heralded certain severe vision loss over a relatively fast time course.  Patients might notice some wavy vision when looking across the back fence, or at the television.  Over the course of just days to weeks, the wavy area would shift to complete loss of central vision.  Loss of central vision meant that patients couldn’t see faces or the text in newspapers.  


However, ten years ago a paradigm shift in how we treat wet age related macular degeneration occurred. By understanding the main culprit that causes blood vessels to grow abnormally, scientists were able to develop a special treatment that arrested blood vessel growth.  The first treatment, Lucentis, has been available in Australia since 2007 and is an antibody that blocks the action of the growth factor that helps blood vessels to grow abnormally.  Provided it is regularly administered it helps keep the abnormal blood vessel growth at bay in most patients.  Other drugs that act in a similar way are now also available, meaning that a diagnosis of wet age related macular degeneration need not be the devastating diagnosis it used to be.


For the many people over 50 who have signs of early AMD, there are also some changes they can make to their lifestyle that may lower the risk of progression.  Ceasing smoking reduces risk by four fold. Eating a balanced diet that includes more green leafy vegetables and more fish can also lower risk, as can weight control and doing more exercise. Regular eye examinations are also important. There is a lot of research into the causes and potential treatments of early age related macular degeneration being undertaken in Australia and overseas. New treatments are being investigated both here and overseas, and it may not be too long before treatment is available for all types of AMD, not just the most severe form.



and Erica :)