All parts of the body change as we age and it's normal to see differences in the way the retina looks in older people. There may be changes to the colour of the retina or tiny, fatty deposits called drusen may appear.
Some people have more significant changes to their retina, for example, quite a lot of small drusen, several large drusen or bigger areas of colour abnormality. These people may be diagnosed with ‘early’ age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
It’s important to note that many people with early AMD will never develop sight loss, as the progress of the disease varies considerably between individuals.
Detecting early AMD
Until quite recently, most people with AMD would not know they had it until it began to affect their sight. Nowadays, very sophisticated eye scanning machines are increasingly available in high street opticians and this is leading to more diagnoses of early AMD.
People over 60 are entitled to free eye tests. An eye test is recommended every two years if you are over 60, and every year if you are over 70. Examination of the macula is a part of this free examination.
How can I stop early AMD developing?
If you are told you have early AMD, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of the disease progressing.
- If you smoke, stop. Smokers are four times more likely to develop AMD than non-smokers. Smoking kills the cells of the retina, reduces the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the eye and damages blood vessels. Smoking causes AMD to progress faster and makes treatment less effective.
- Take moderate exercise to maintain a healthy weight and normal blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially green, leafy vegetables. These contain nutrients that are thought to be important to eye health.
Unfortunately, taking these precautions does not prevent AMD progressing in everyone. If the disease does progress, your vision will be affected to some extent.
Some experts recommend nutritional supplements for people with AMD. However, the evidence for this is considered weak by other experts. The best evidence is from two large studies, the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS) 1 and 2. See our ‘Nutrition and eye health’ leaflet for more about AREDS, diet and supplements.
If you decide to take a supplement, consult your GP first, especially if you are taking other medication.
Monitoring your vision
If you have early AMD it is a good idea to monitor your vision every week or so to spot changes early. You can do this very simply by closing one eye and looking at window frames or door posts to see if there is any distortion.
Whatever the stage of your AMD, if you have sudden changes to your vision, see your optometrist urgently – the same day if possible.