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Disturbing News on Blindness

College of Optometrists publish disturbing news on increasing blindness by 2020

March 2011

Cases of AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) expected to increase by a quarter in the next 10 years, where currently in the UK 600,000 people suffer from AMD with an estimated 239,000 people predicted to experience vision loss as a result of the disease by the end of 2011 The direct and indirect costs of overall sight loss are expected to rise by over £1 billion in 2013

From a major study which included 4,000 UK adults by the College of Optometrists, the professional, scientific and examining body for optometry in the UK, revealed that half of people have never heard of Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) which is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world.

AMD is a condition which attacks the macula of the eye, robbing the individual of the ability to see fine detail, such as recognising people's faces, reading or watching television. 

Experts predict that cases of AMD are expected to increase by nearly a quarter by 2020 , largely due to the ageing population. Eye experts are warning that lack of awareness of the symptoms of the disease means that some people may be suffering from sight loss unnecessarily and others may not been accessing support available.

Smoking is a major risk factor for increasing the chances of developing AMD, however, only a third of smokers (36 per cent) were aware that smoking can cause eye disease. Similarly, only half of people were aware that diet may play a part in helping to reduce the risks of developing eye disease like AMD. This lack of awareness is contributing to preventable sight loss, which is costing the UK around £2.14 billion, and the direct and indirect costs of overall sight loss, of which AMD is the largest cause, are expected to rise by a further £1 billion in 2013.

Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser to the College of Optometrists said: "Age Related Macular Degeneration is the biggest single cause of sight loss in the UK so it is concerning that so few people are aware of it and its symptoms. There are two forms of AMD, wet and dry. There is currently no cure for either forms but early diagnosis and treatment of wet AMD - which is acute - is crucial in order to prevent vision loss. Dry AMD is which more common but develops gradually, is not treatable but there are services available to support people with this condition. By making people more aware of AMD and the impact that it can have, we hope to increase detection and people seeking access to support services.”

It is not known what causes AMD, but a family history, obesity, diet, smoking and age are all thought to be contributing factors.

Dr Blakeney continued:  “While AMD is a condition associated with older age, there are steps you can take earlier in life to minimise your risk. Research suggests that a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and oily fish may help prevent AMD. Smoking also doubles your chances of developing the condition so quitting can also reduce your risk. I would also recommend that you regularly check the vision of each eye separately so that you can spot early changes".

How to check yourself

You can easily check yourself at home for the early warning signs of wet AMD by looking with each eye separately and checking for any of the following:

• Distorted vision - straight lines become wavy or objects appear to be the wrong size (check by looking at straight objects like door frames or venetian blinds)
• blurry or blank patches in your central vision
• difficulty reading, recognising people's faces, driving, looking at small objects and watching television

There is currently no treatment for dry AMD but if it is causing you problems in your daily life your optometrist can advise you on special magnifiers to help, or organisations like RNIB or the local social services can provide you with equipment that can help you manage your day-to-day tasks.
Wet AMD develops much more quickly than dry AMD and can often be treated if it is caught early. It tends to start in one eye and you may not notice it affecting your vision since your other eye can still see clearly, and therefore compensates for the affected eye.

If you experience any of these symptoms it is critical that you see your optometrist or a doctor immediately and without delay.

Find out more about AMD

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