In macular degeneration, the part of the retina that processes detailed vision (the macula) degrades, affecting central vision. It's the leading cause of vision loss in the UK for those over 50.
Macular degeneration affects your ability to see fine detail at any distance. Fortunately, it doesn't affect your peripheral (side) vision and, so even with a diagnosis of macular degeneration, your peripheral vision will still be normal so you won't lose all your eyesight.
The two types of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Dry macular degeneration
About 80% of people who have macular degeneration have dry macular degeneration, where a build up of clumps of protein, called drusen, form on the macula. This causes slow loss of central vision. There is no way to treat dry macular degeneration, but there are ways that we can monitor it and there are still interventions that we can assess and refer patients for, to ensure that it minimises impact on quality of life.
Wet macular degeneration
Wet macular degeneration is less common but much more serious as it results in losing vision faster than with dry macular degeneration. Wet macular degeneration is when new blood vessels grow under the retina where they are not supposed to grow. These vessels are not like normal blood vessels, so they may leak blood or other fluids, and the way they grow disrupts the delicate retinal shape, so it can cause scarring of the macula, which causes the vision loss.
Many people don't realise they have macular degeneration until their vision is very blurry. Often, with early intervention we can save vision that would otherwise have been lost. This is why it is important to have regular visits to an optometrist. We can look for early signs of macular degeneration before you have any vision problems.
What's an Amsler Grid for macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration usually causes your vision to change in a very subtle way over time. So, you may not notice these changes when they happen. However, if you detect vision changes early, it allows early treatment which increases the chance of retaining your eyesight or preventing any further loss of vision.
Those with macular degeneration should use an Amsler grid every day to monitor vision. A good way to do this is to place it somewhere you will use it everyday, such as on the fridge or on your bathroom mirror.
How to use the Amsler grid
In good light, look at the grid from about 30-40cms away. Be sure to wear your reading glasses if you normally use them.
Cover one eye so that you test only one eye at a time.
As it tests what your central vision at your macula is doing, you need to look directly at the dot in the centre at all times.
Now while you are still staring at the centre dot, try and notice if any of the lines look bent or wavy. Also pay attention to see if any of the lines look missing, blurry, dim, or out of shape.
Now cover your other eye and do the same thing.
Any noticeable changes mean that your macular degeneration may have worsened, so this requires an eye test right away.
Unfortunately, macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness for the older generation, so the key message is that it's vital to get comprehensive eye tests every year with an optometrist to prevent any sight loss.