This week is macular degeneration awareness week, but what is macular degeneration and how do you know if you’re at risk?

 

You’ve probably seen those spooky images of an eye being pulled open for anti-smoking campaigns? This ad refers to macular degeneration. It’s a progressive disease of the eye that interferes with central vision and can lead to blindness.

In Australia, 1 in 7 people over 50 have the disease. It’s the leading cause of vision loss in the country.

 

How to recognise Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration affects the central part of your eye – the retina. The retina is responsible for the way you process images. Damage to the retina may affect your ability to perform activities requiring fine vision, like reading, sewing or knitting. It may also manifest as light sensitivity, decreased night vision and the need for more light to see.

Many people experience these symptoms and simply attribute them to ‘getting old’ but they could be signs of macular degeneration, and should be seen to by a doctor or eye health specialist.

Other signs to look for:

The Macular Degeneration Foundation of Australia notes the following as symptoms that should alert you to test for macular degeneration:

  • If straight lines appear wavy or bent
  • Distinguishing faces becomes a problem
  • Dark patches or empty spaces appearing in the centre of your vision

Other Risk Factors

Unfortunately, the risk of developing macular degeneration increases as we age. The risk is 50% higher if a direct family history exists, and of course, smoking is a risk factor – hence the horrible ads! Smokers are 3-4 times more likely to develop macular degeneration,

Eating for healthier eyes

As with most illnesses, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing Macular Degeneration or to slow its progression.

Typically, these include eliminating nutrient-deficient, high calorie foods and lowering your intake of processed foods that are high in sugar, flour, fat and artificial colours and flavours.

Here’s some foods you should eat for healthy eyes:

  • Dark leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • 2-3 servings of oily fish a week. Natural fish oils help improve the health of blood vessels in the eye, helping to send oxygen and nourishment to the retina and optic nerves
  • Eggs, asparagus, onions and garlic contain sulphur which helps your body make glutathione - an antioxidant for eye health
  • Switch to low GI foods like basmati rice, kumera instead of potato, spelt, rye or linseed instead of regular bread
  • Foods and supplements rich in bioflavonoids and carotenoids including berries and citrus fruits are also great

If you’d like more information about Macular Degeneration and how you can reduce your risk, click here.

Always consult your health care professional before addressing your health concerns with lifetsyle change or supplements.