Published 27 Apr 2021
May is Macular Month. An annual campaign helping Australians understand their risk of macular disease. Understanding your own risk for macular disease and having regular eye tests, can mean early detection of the disease.
Some common diseases that affect the macula include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion, vitreomacular traction and myopic macular degeneration.
What is the macula?
The macula is a very small part of the retina at the back of the eye. It allows us to perform tasks such as reading, driving, face recognition and allows us to engage in activities requiring detailed vision. When light enters the eye, an image forms on the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is a delicate layer of tissue which lines the back of the eye and consists of light-sensitive cells, enabling us to see.
Damage to the macula, just like a scratch in the middle of your glasses, can be quite frustrating to look around or ignore. That’s why it’s important to have your eyes regularly tested by an Optometrist.
What happens when the macula is damaged?
Macular Degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is a term used to define a group of retinal eye diseases. AMD has the potential to cause progressive loss of central vision, leaving peripheral or side vision intact. Macular degeneration is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss in people over the age of 50 in Australia, affecting approximately one in seven.
How do keep my eyes healthy?
There are several things you can do to keep your eyes in the best of health:
- Have regular eye examinations
- Quit smoking
- Live a healthy lifestyle
- Wear sunglasses
To find out more view the Macular Disease Foundation Australia’s Eye Health checklist.
Regular eye examinations
The two strongest risk factors for AMD are beyond our control - age and family history.
The best way to manage these factors is with regular eye examinations and communicating any family history of known eye diseases to your optometrist. At GMHBA Eye Care we recommend annual eye examinations once a person turns 65 years of age.
The Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) scan is now considered a standard tool in the diagnosis and management of AMD and is available across all GMHBA Eye Care locations.
What is an OCT?
OCT stands for Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) and is a non-invasive piece of diagnostic equipment that captures a series of advanced 3D scans of the back of the eye. An OCT scan can assist with the diagnosis and management of eye conditions including glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.
How does an OCT work?
OCT has some similarities to an ultrasound in that it provides real-time images of the back of the eye. An OCT scan uses harmless light waves, instead of sound waves, to illuminate and scan your retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. This allows your optometrist to examine your retina in an extremely detailed way.
What happens during an OCT?
An OCT is a non-invasive scan that can be done with or without dilating drops. Dilating drops may be used to widen the pupil and help capture the images. Most patients find dilating drops to be painless however some light sensitivity is normal for a few hours following. Like other tests you will do during your eye examination, you will place your forehead and chin on a rest in front of the machine. Your optometrist will then guide you through the scans and a fixation light is used to ensure you are looking in the correct direction for each scan. The scans will take about 5-10 minutes to do.
What does an OCT show/measure?
The retinal tissue has 10 layers and the OCT scans allows each layer to be captured with detail. An OCT can capture detail of 8-10um resolution, which is similar to the thickness of a strand of hair! This allows even the slightest, and earliest change to be identified.
Do I need an OCT?
This is a great discussion to have with your optometrist who will be able to recommend the scan for you. Higher risk patients may require having a scan done more often to monitor and watch for change. Factors that increase risk include being over the age of 50, having a history of eye conditions, family history of eye disease and systemic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Even for those who don’t have an increased risk of eye disease, a baseline OCT is an excellent reference for you optometrist to have, allowing them to detect and manage even the smallest of changes in your eyes.
All our GMHBA Eye Care practices have an OCT machine available and all our optometrists are there to help if you have any further questions regarding this piece of equipment.
Your optometrist can also show you how to self-monitor your vision at home with an Amsler grid, which is specifically designed to assist with detecting changes to the macula. Additionally, checking the vision in one eye against the vision of the other eye is a great way to monitor changes to your vision. Just cover one eye and note what you see, then do the same to the other eye to compare.
What else can I do?
Smoking is the third strongest risk factor for developing AMD. There is a direct association between the number of cigarettes smoked over time and the risk of developing late-stage AMD. The good news is the eye starts to recover the moment you stop smoking.
Live a healthy lifestyle
A balanced diet is important for your eye health. Include dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily, fish two to three times a week and a handful of nuts. The Macular Disease Foundation have more information on diet and lifestyle.
Wear sunglasses outdoors
Not only are sunglasses a fashion item, but they help reduce the cumulative impact of UV damage to the eye which can contribute to AMD. Find out more here.
What can I do today?
While there are no medical treatments available for early stage macular degeneration there is a substantial amount of research being done around the world in the hope of a treatment. Following the recommended guide is your best defence to slow the progression of this disease.
Additionally, the optometrists at GMHBA Eye Care can address any visual concerns you may have and will assist in finding the right support services for anyone affected with age-related macular degeneration.