Macular Degeneration: Does It Lead To Blindness?


Q: I have macular degeneration and am confused by press reports about Dame Judi Dench, who is also affected, which suggest that the condition could cause blindness. Is this true and is there any treatment?

A: Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is a debilitating and common condition. But the sight can be improved to some extent in most cases, according to consultant ophthalmologist Professor Charles Clark ( ARMD is not painful and people affected will not become totally blind, he explains.

The macula is a tiny area, the size of a pinhead, at the back of the eye. It provides all of the ‘fine’ or ‘central’ vision that you use for reading, sewing, etc.

Have your eyes tested if you have difficulty reading small print with your reading glasses, straight lines appear wavy or distorted, or your vision is blurry.

If the macula is affected, you will lose the central vision from that eye. One eye is usually more affected than the other, but if both eyes have severe ARMD the patient may be registered blind, although the actual loss is only one per cent of total vision.

ARMD is classified as ‘dry’ or ‘wet’. Neither affects peripheral vision, so neither leads to total blindness. In dry macular degeneration, which affects about 85 per cent of cases, the macula wears away very gradually. There is no treatment as yet. The wet type is caused by leaking blood vessels. Possible treatments include laser therapy to seal the leak, or injections.

The exact cause of ARMD is not known. It is mostly seen in people over 65, more often women, but it can develop in your 40s or 50s. It may run in families.

Smoking greatly increases your risk of ARMD but stopping helps to decrease the risk.Long exposure to high levels of UV light may be a factor, so it is wise to wear big wraparound sunglasses with wide arms.

The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, also zinc, a free radical scavenger, may slow the progression of existing ARMD. Try taking Vitabiotics Visionace Plus, £15.25 for 56 tablets, from Victoria Health.

You can use existing vision more effectively. A good magnifying glass allows many patients to read, albeit slowly. High magnification lenses with inbuilt lighting are more effective and relatively inexpensive. Central magnifiers on spectacles improve distance vision.

Look off-centre. When looking at someone, focus on their ears rather than their eyes. This uses the off-centre retinal nerves and makes the image clearer.

Ask your ophthalmologist to check for associated treatable conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts.

A stellar calmer

I am a fan of flower remedies – for humans and animals – and always carry Bach Rescue Remedy in my bag. (My farrier is a convert to the spray version to calm fractious horses when shoeing.) One of my colleagues tells methat Rescue Gummy Stars, which come in a blister pack and are suitable for children from two years, calmed her four-year-old when he got into ‘an unfocused spiral of tears’ about someone dying. ‘Similarly, when my daughter had a nasty fall, they took her out of her state of shock.’ She thinks they will be useful before school concerts and exams too. Rescue Gummy Stars, £6.95 for 60; Rescue Remedy Spray, £8 for 20ml, from Victoria Health.

Dig these six back-savers

Chiropractor Dominic Cheetham dishes the dirt on how to grow lovely blooms without provoking a painful back:

  • Stretch for five to ten minutes before you start gardening to loosen your muscles and get blood flowing.
  • Wear comfy clothes – nothing tight – and shoes or boots with good cushioning and arch support.
  • Take regular breaks to stretch and rest. If you are bending forwards, stand up every 15 minutes, put your hands in the small of your back, bend your knees a little and arch your spine backwards for a few seconds.
  • If possible, kneel (on a pad) rather than bend over when weeding or planting. Sit down to chop up debris.
  • Position big pots before you fill them.
  • Split heavy loads, such as watering cans and bags of soil, and make more short journeys with lighter loads.

Brand New You by Simon Middleton

(Hay House, £10.99*). With the world of work in turmoil, stress levels are at an unparalleled high. Thinking of yourself as Me Inc can be a useful approach when things are shaky. A YOU reader highly recommends this book, which gives simple strategies to rebrand yourself at work (and in personal relationships): ‘It’s simple to follow but gives thorough explanations and details, with exercises in each chapter and real-life stories.’

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