Spring has arrived – a time when winter melts away and the coming summer months creates a spirit of excitement and renewed optimism. It is also a time when we can expect people to spend more time enjoying the outdoors with its wonderful sunshine – however, if you don’t protect your eyes the summer sun’s harmful rays can cause some major damage.

In this month’s newsletter we’ll be exploring Macular Degeneration, an eye condition that effects the retina and which can cause a gradual loss of vision in patients who suffer from it. De Jongh Optometry offers expert assistance and help to people with macular degeneration.

What is Macular Degeneration? De Jongh Optometry - Macular Degeneration

A human eye consists of three layers: the outer layer called the cornea, the middle layer which contains the iris, and the innermost layer, where the retina is located. The retina is the body of tissue that lines the back of the eye. Macular Degeneration causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the centre of the retina and the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision, which lets us see objects that are straight ahead.

The difference between Dry Macular Degeneration and Wet Macular Degeneration

There are two types of macular degeneration: dry, which is the most common form, and wet, which is not so common, but more dangerous to your vision. Most people who have macular degeneration have the dry form. This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula.De Jongh Optometry - Dry Macular Degeneration and Wet Macular Degeneration

With dry macular degeneration, vision loss is usually gradual. People who develop dry macular degeneration must carefully and constantly monitor their central vision. There is no real treatment for this form – it can be prevented by adopting a strict vitamin regime and protecting the eyes from the sun from a young age.

Wet macular degeneration occurs in a significantly smaller amount of people (about 10%) suffering from this condition, but is a lot more dangerous. It is important to diagnose the wet form as early as possible in order to minimalise damage to your central vision. 

How to know if you suffer from Macular Degeneration

Macular Degeneration usually starts without any symptoms. If you are 40 years or older and suspect that you might suffer from this condition, a yearly examination is strongly recommended. A comprehensive dilated eye exam which can detect the condition is also an option, and consists of the following:

  • Visual Acuity Test.This eye chart measures how well you see at distances.
  • Dilated Eye Exam.Your eye care professional places drops in your eyes to widen or dilate the pupils. This provides a better view of the back of your eye. Using a special magnifying lens, he or she then looks at your retina and optic nerve for signs of AMD and other eye problems.
  • Amsler Grid.Your eye care professional also may ask you to look at an Amsler grid. Changes in your central vision may cause the lines in the grid to disappear or appear wavy, a sign of AMD.De Jongh Optometry - How to Know if you Suffer From Macular Degeneration
  • Fluorescein Angiogram.In this test, which is performed by an ophthalmologist, a fluorescent dye is injected into your arm. Pictures are taken as the dye passes through the blood vessels in your eye. This makes it possible to see leaking blood vessels, which occur in a severe, rapidly progressive type of AMD (see below). In rare cases, complications to the injection can arise, from nausea to more severe allergic reactions.
  • Optical Coherence Tomography.You have probably heard of ultrasound, which uses sound waves to capture images of living tissues. OCT is similar except that it uses light waves, and can achieve very high-resolution images of any tissues that can be penetrated by light—such as the eyes. After your eyes are dilated, you’ll be asked to place your head on a chin rest and hold still for several seconds while the images are obtained. The light beam is painless.

De Jongh Optometry uses an iVue OCT scanner (a powerful clinical tool that transforms the way you assess the retina, optic disc and the cornea), which scans the retina to identify early symptoms of macular degeneration, and also determines if a patient suffers from dry or wet macular degeneration, resulting in a more effective follow-up treatment for the patient. 

Does your lifestyle have an effect on your chances to obtain Macular Degeneration?De Jongh Optometry - Macular Degeneration and Lifestyle

The answer here is a resounding yes! If you follow a very healthy lifestyle, your chances of contracting macular degeneration is very slim. However, an unhealthy lifestyle greatly enhances the chances of developing symptoms at some stage during your lifetime. An unbalanced diet, smoking, exposing your eyes to a lot of sunlight by not regularly wearing sunglasses, weak genetics and bad general health, for example high blood pressure and diabetes that’s not treated regularly can have a profound effect on your chances of suffering from macular degeneration.

What can be done when wearing glasses doesn’t help anymore

When glasses or contact lenses aren’t successful in alleviating the effects of macular degeneration, there are various other options available:De Jongh Optometry - Macular Degeneration and Wearing Glasses

  • Reading glasses with high-powered lenses
  • Handheld magnifiers
  • Video magnifiers
  • Computers with large-print and speech-output systems
  • Large-print reading materials
  • Talking watches, clocks, and calculators
  • Computer aids and other technologies, such as a closed-circuit television, which uses a camera and television to enlarge printed text

De Jongh Optometry has many of these devices available at our branches and we will gladly assess and every patient’s individual needs to determine what device would fit their lifestyle the best.

There are currently various types of research projects underway to combat the effects of macular degeneration, one of which is a wirelessly controlled microchip that can restore limited vision to patients. A German medical technology company Retina Implant developed an artificial retina, which was implanted in one eye of participants as part of a company-funded trial.

De Jongh Optometry is very excited about the rapid advancement in technology, and locally we always strive to continually develop our clinical skills and expertise in order to ensure that we can assist the community with the newest techniques and technology. We will be attending the Neuro Optometric Rehabilitation Association’s congress in Reno, Nevada (USA) from 22 to 25 September and look forward to obtain and share the latest developments with our community back home in Pretoria!

Everybody ages gradually and with it the eyes and their functions, but with constant protection from the sun, a healthy diet, a healthy overall lifestyle and not smoking, your chances of suffering from macular degeneration at some point in your life will be reduced greatly!