How to spot the symptoms: glaucoma and AMD

PUBLISHED: 17:05 01 August 2018

Photo copyright: Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care

Photo copyright: Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care

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Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are both serious eye conditions, but how much do you know about them?

Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are both serious eye conditions that most people have at least heard of, but perhaps don’t know too much more about beyond the names. This is a straightforward guide to understanding both conditions, what can be done about them and, most importantly, how to identify the symptoms as early as possible.

Glaucoma: the silent thief of sight

Glaucoma is the world’s biggest cause of permanent blindness, currently affecting 600,000 people in the UK and expected to affect up to 76 million people by 2020. It is a condition that affects the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Healthy eyes produce and drain a fluid called aqueous humour, and glaucoma occurs when either too much is produced or not enough is drained. The increase in fluid volume causes increased pressure within the eyeball which damages the optic nerve, resulting in gradual sight loss.

While the causes are still not completely understood, it is widely recognised that certain factors can put you at a heightened risk of developing glaucoma. These include:

● Age: the condition is more common in those over 40.

● Family history and genetics: if you have an immediate relative with glaucoma, the risk can be up to nine times higher.

● Medical conditions: diabetes, short-sightedness and long-sightedness can all put you at higher risk.

● Ethnicity: those of Asian, African or Caribbean origin all have a higher risk of glaucoma.

The most common form of glaucoma is ‘primary open-angle glaucoma’. The symptoms of this type of glaucoma are difficult to spot, and many cases are completely asymptomatic. It develops very slowly over time, beginning as a slight blurring of your peripheral vision. This can develop into more noticeable blank spots, but the damage could be advanced by this stage. A less common form of glaucoma is ‘acute angle closure glaucoma’. Symptoms include headaches, redness of the eye, sudden and intense pain in your eyes, blurred vision and even seeing rings around lights.

Glaucoma can be easily identified during an eye test, and early detection is key. Treatment for the condition will depend on the type of glaucoma you have but can include eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. It’s crucial to have regular eye examinations to monitor any changes in your eyes and to confirm that the treatment is effective.

All about AMD

Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is most common in those over 50 and is one of the leading causes of vision loss, affecting 500,000 people in the UK. The condition affects the macula – a yellow oval spot in the centre of the retina. The retina is the part of your eye that collects images and sends them to the brain, so when the macula stops working as it should, it can cause blurring, distortion and loss of central vision.

The majority of cases are dry AMD, caused when the macula is slowly damaged by a build-up of drusen, a normal aged related fatty waste product. Dry AMD results in gradual vision loss over a longer period of time. Studies suggest a good diet with lots of vitamins and antioxidants can slow down progression and supplements are also recommended in early to moderate stages of the condition. Wet AMD is more serious and is caused by abnormal blood vessels forming under the macula, which can then leak, causing a sudden and significant loss of vision. It leads to rapid deterioration of vision but can be treated with an injection into the eye itself. The injected drug is intended to stop the abnormal blood vessel growth. Wet AMD requires urgent medical attention; the earlier you detect it the earlier you can treat it, resulting in the best possible visual outcome.

As age-related macular degeneration affects your central rather than peripheral vision, it can have a severe impact on your quality of life. Symptoms include difficulty recognising people’s faces, colours appearing less vibrant, blind spots in your central vision and straight lines appearing wavy, bent or distorted. While these sound like easily recognised signs, AMD can sometimes just affect one eye, so these symptoms can go unnoticed day-to-day because the other eye tends to compensate to an extent.

When it comes to AMD, prevention is far better than cure. Around one in ten people over 65 experience a form of AMD, and there are other contributing factors too, including family history. However, there are steps you can take to help avoid it:

● Stop smoking – it triples your risk of AMD

● Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables for antioxidants, vitamins and minerals

● Exercise regularly to help maintain a healthy weight

● Always wear CE-marked sunglasses to minimise UV damage when in the sun

Don’t leave it too late

For both glaucoma and AMD, the most effective action you can take is having regular eye tests at intervals advised by your local optician. This will allow them to monitor your eyes for any changes over time.

Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care recommend their Ultimate Eye Exam, which includes an OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) scan. OCT gives a 3D view of the retina, working like an ultrasound for the eye and showing images of the layers of tissue. This incredible technology can help them to detect sight-threatening conditions including glaucoma and AMD up to five years earlier than traditional testing methods. The earlier these conditions are detected, the faster your optometrist can act to prevent further deterioration of your vision.

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