Elderly couple talking

Macular degeneration

The symptoms and risk factors to know about

This month is Macular Degeneration Foundation Australia’s Macula Month, so we’re taking a look at this common and debilitating disease and what you can do to reduce your risk.


What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness and major vision loss in Australia. Also known as age-related macular degeneration, it’s a type of vision loss that affects your central field of vision. It’s a progressive, chronic disease that affects your macula – the area at the centre of the retina, at the back of your eye. The macula is responsible for detailed central vision (the rest of the retina looks after your peripheral vision) so macular degeneration can affect your ability to read, drive, recognise faces and complete tasks that require detailed vision. Your macula is also responsible for most of your colour vision.


Did you know?

  • 50% of all blindness is due to macular degeneration
  • Its prevalence increases with age
  • Around 1 in 7 Australians over the age of 50 show some signs of the disease.


The symptoms to look out for

Early detection of macular degeneration allows you to take steps to slow down its progress. In its early stages it may go noticed and it’s easy to dismiss the symptoms as a normal part of ageing. While symptoms can vary depending on the type of macular degeneration, they commonly consist of:

  • loss of your central vision
  • blurring or distortion of your central vision
  • dark spots appearing in your central vision
  • difficulty doing tasks that require detailed vision (like reading).

Macular degeneration can only be diagnosed by examining the retina, which is why regular eye checks are so important. If you do start to experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your optometrist straight away.


Risk factors to know about

While we don’t know the exact cause of macular degeneration, there are certain risk factors that influence the deterioration of this part of the retina:

  • Age – macular degeneration is primarily age-related, affecting one in seven people over the age of 50 in Australia
  • Family history – people with a family history of the disease have a 50% chance of also developing it
  • Smoking – smokers and people that have smoked are three times more likely to develop macular degeneration.


How to reduce your risk

Although there’s no cure for macular degeneration, you can reduce your risk of getting the disease or slow down its progress by making these positive lifestyle changes:

  • have regular eye tests (every 2-3 years depending on your age and needs) and make sure your macula is checked
  • don’t smoke
  • maintain a healthy lifestyle including a healthy weight and regular physical activity
  • eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • protect your eyes from the sun
  • use an Amsler grid to check for symptoms
  • see your optometrist if you experience any sudden changes in vision.


If you have any issues with your eyes or vision, speak to an optometrist. You can book an appointment at a Teachers Health Centre or one of our optical providers. Don’t forget, an eye check every three years (or one every year once you’re 65) is covered by Medicare.