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Looking out for macular degeneration

IT is a condition that affects one in seven New Zealanders aged 50 and over, rising to a quarter of those aged over 80, yet awareness of macular degeneration is low, with almost half (49 percent) revealing they do not know anything about the eye disease.

This is a problem as early detection and treatment can reduce avoidable vision loss for the 1,500,000 New Zealanders at risk.

The condition is the most common cause of blindness but some forms are treatable — if caught in time.

This week is Macular Degeneration Awareness Week, which aims to educate New Zealanders about the simple steps they can take to protect their vision.

The macula is the central part of the retina at the back of the eye.

The retina processes vision, and macular degeneration causes progressive macula damage, leading to difficulties reading, recognising faces and driving.

There are two types of macular degeneration, dry and wet.

Dry macular degeneration results in gradual loss of central vision.

Wet macular degeneration is characterised by a sudden loss of vision caused by abnormal blood vessels growing under the retina.

Immediate medical treatment of wet macular degeneration is essential for saving sight.

“Sadly macular degeneration is not uncommon and the risks increase as we age,” said Macular Degeneration New Zealand (MDNZ) general manager Phillipp Pitcher.

“It is important that all New Zealanders aged over 40 get their eyes checked regularly but also know the signs to look out for so they can monitor their eye health and get any abnormalities checked out.

“We hope that by raising awareness of the condition and the signs to look out for, we can avoid future cases of needless vision loss.

“Early detection and prompt treatment saves sight.”

Key signs to look out for when monitoring your own eye health include;

• Straight lines appear wavy or bent

• Difficulty reading

• Difficulty distinguishing faces

• Dark patches or empty spaces in vision

• Poor night vision

• Decreased colour sensitivity

A simple test, available via the MDNZ website and your optometrist, can lead to early diagnosis and treatment of macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness.

Visit www.mdnz.org.nz to find out more about macular degeneration, including tips for staying healthy and signs to look out for as well as events taking place during Macular Degeneration Awareness Week 2020.