Nearly 1.5m people in the UK are affected by macular disease

Closeup of woman's eyes

New figures reveal that nearly 1.5m people in the UK are affected by macular disease, the nation’s biggest cause of sight loss.  

The statistics revealed by the Macular Society, have been released on World Sight Day to highlight the extent of what is now an urgent public health issue.

Macular disease is a progressive disease, which can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, leaving them unable to drive, read or see faces. Many people affected describe losing their sight as being similar to bereavement. There is still no cure and most types of the disease are not treatable.

It has been widely stated that 600,000 people in the UK are affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). However, until now it was not known that as many as 700,000 people were affected by other macular conditions and many more at risk. 

The new figures account for a number of different types of macular disease including Stargardt, a genetic dystrophy often affecting younger people, diabetic macular oedema, a complication of diabetic retinopathy and myopic macular degeneration, which can affect people who are severely short sighted.

In 2016 the Society released figures which projected that the number of people with AMD alone, is expected to more than double by 2050 to 1.3 million – equivalent to 400 new cases every day*. However, the Society is now calling for more work to be done to understand what the true extent of these figures are, once all types of macular disease are considered.

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “This is an alarming figure. We know macular disease is the biggest cause of blindness in the UK, but it’s the first time that the full extent of macular disease has been collated and the total number is shocking. No one should have to put up with the distressing and frightening impact of macular disease without support - however young or old they are. When sight is lost, the things you love and enjoy are stolen from you, from reading and gardening to being able to drive or recognise a loved one’s face.

“This is a problem that is not going away and is only getting worse. There is currently no cure for macular disease and most types are not even treatable. It’s time something is done.” 

The Society has previously highlighted its concerns with the lack of money being spent on medical research into eye disease. A report published in 2016 revealed that of the £22.7m spent on eye disease medical research in 2014, just £6m was spent on AMD. Yet, the amount spent on macular disease as a whole is proportionately even less.

The Society has launched a new strategy with the aim of addressing this shortfall of research.

Cathy Yelf added: “Macular disease is as prevalent as dementia and represents a huge cost, care and societal burden, yet it does not receive a level of research funding proportionate to its impact. 

“Unless strong action is taken right away we will be facing an epidemic in the decades to come. Alongside the devastating personal consequences of sight loss, AMD alone costs the UK £1.6bn annually.”

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