Macular degeneration leading cause of blindness in people over 50

Dave Mathieson
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Dr. Ian McCarthy shows a model of how the dry form of Age-related Macular Degeneration can lead to the wet form, or bleeding in the back of the eye.

AMHERST – More than one million Canadians are living with Age-related Macular Degeneration, and many of them don’t even know it.

“We see people who aren’t noticing any changes in their vision but who are showing early risk factors,” said Dr. Ian McCarthy, optometrist at FYIdoctors in Amherst.

This week is International AMD awareness week and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind says AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in Canadians over the age of 50.

“We rarely see it under the age of 50, but it increases dramatically over the age of 50,” said McCarthy.

The macula is about one millimetre in size and handles detailed vision.

“Types of risk factors we see are small spots on the back of the eye,” said McCarthy

The risk factor for AMD multiplies for people who smoke, have diabetes or live a sedentary lifestyle.

 “Family history is another big one,” said McCarthy.

There are two forms of AMD, wet and dry.

90 per cent of people with AMD suffer from the dry form, which is less destructive, but can lead to the wet form if not treated.

“Somebody who has the dry form of macular degeneration has a 10 per cent chance per year of converting to the wet form,” said McCarthy.

 McCarthy pulls a model of the eye from the cupboard in his office showing how AMD advances from dry to wet.

“Sometimes people don’t notice any changes, but when people begin to notice symptoms they notice waviness or distortion in the centre of their vision,” said McCarthy. “They might miss letters or words when they read.

“When we start to see yellow spots, (at the back of the eye) that’s the dry form, and when there’s a very sudden change in vision, that’s the wet form,” said McCarthy. “That’s when we see bleeding. You get a messier situation much quicker.”

Early detection is important in prevention of AMD.

“We see some people who have 20/20 vision on one hand, and yet have clear risk factors,” said McCarthy. “We’ll counsel them on quitting smoking, change their diet, get more exercise or supplement their diet with the vitamins.

“There are specific vitamins made for the eyes, and when you take these preventative vitamins it can reduce your risk of vision loss by up to a half.”

The wet form can prove more problematic.

“The wet form is a faster moving form of macular degeneration,” he said. “In those cases we can see people who are permanently, legally blind.

“The treatment options are injection treatments that help the bleeding on the back of the eye heal,” added McCarthy. “The cost of those can be up to $2,100 per treatment, and the provincial government now covers that cost.”

The best way to avoid AMD is to get regular eye checkups.

McCarthy recommends an eye exam every two years for the general population and said,

“If we see macular degeneration, or any number of things, we’ll be recommending exams every six months or every year.”



Organizations: Canadian National Institute for the Blind

Geographic location: AMHERST

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