A new national campaign is calling on the Irish public to continue with scheduled eye care appointments and to visit their eye care specialist if they experience any blurriness, distortion or changes in vision which may be symptoms of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD).Supported by the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO), Association of Optometrists (AOI), the National Council for the Blind (NCBI), Fighting Blindness and Novartis, #wewillseeyou aims to encourage people not to put their eye health at risk by ignoring any worrying changes to their vision or postponing appointments with their eye care specialist due to the Covid-19 pandemic environment.
What is AMD?
Age-related Macular Degeneration is the number one cause of sight loss in Ireland for those aged over 50, according to The Cost of Sight Loss Report NCBI 2011, with the condition affecting more than 100,000 people on the island. Symptoms, including blurred vision, distortion, and dark spots, often go unrecognised or ignored in the early stages of the condition. However, with regular eye tests problems can be detected and treated more rapidly.
AMD can progress to Wet AMD, which is a further degeneration of the condition caused by abnormal blood vessels inside the eye which leak and lead to rapid loss of vision. Wet AMD can develop very suddenly but can be treated if caught and referred immediately to an eye doctor, otherwise known as an ophthalmologist.
Am I at Risk?
There are many risk factors for AMD including:
Age: Risk of AMD increases with age and the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) recommends that those over the age of 50 have a comprehensive eye check every 2 years.
Family History: While not believed to be genetic, there can be a history of the condition in families. Those with close relatives who have suffered with sight loss are recommended to get their eyes checked regularly.
General Health: Those with high blood pressure and a poor diet are at greater risk of developing AMD. Studies, including the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, have also shown that smokers are twice as likely to develop the condition.
Excess Sun Exposure: Long-term exposure to the sun without eye protection is also a risk factor.
What are the symptoms?
Macular degeneration affects people in different ways but some common symptoms to watch out for include:
- Gaps or dark spots (like a smudge on glasses) in vision, especially first thing in the morning
- Objects in close proximity changing shape, size or colour or seeming to move or disappear
- Words disappearing when reading and digits becoming difficult to determine
- Straight lines such as door frames and lamp posts appearing distorted or bent
Should I See a Specialist?
According to Dr Patricia Quinlan, President of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists and Consultant Ophthalmologist: “If you have a previously diagnosed eye condition or notice any change in your vision, contact your doctor or eye care professional. A visit to the doctor may be a little different right now, but every measure is being taken to keep patients safe. All hospitals, clinics and healthcare professionals are taking the necessary precautions.
We are all adapting to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the ICO reminds the public of the importance of looking after your eye health now as always, in the knowledge that all precautions are being taken to keep us safe.”
Lynda McGivney-Nolan, Optometric Advisor, AOI, assures patients that "Since May 18th all optometrists have opened their doors and are providing full eye care to the highest standards, all be it in the new way. The AOI would like to remind people that the key to preventing visual loss or impairment is early intervention and should you notice any changes in vision or if you have an eye condition that requires monitoring or a checkup, you should contact your local optometrist to arrange an appointment."
You are not alone when it comes to looking after your eye health, there are lots of support services
Audrey Derveloy, Managing Director, Novartis Ireland, adds: “If you are concerned by your eye health or notice any changes, please visit your eye care specialist as soon as you can. There are also a number of ways to manage eye health at home such as stopping smoking, eating a healthy, balanced diet high in antioxidant vitamins and minerals, and avoiding excess UV exposure by wearing appropriate sunglasses when outside on very sunny days. A great resource for monitoring changes to central vision is an Amsler Grid which can be downloaded at www.amd.ie for use at home.”
You are not alone when it comes to looking after your eye health as there are lots of support services ready to provide information and guidance, says June Tinsley, National Council for the Blind of Ireland: “Ensuring those living with sight loss maintain their independence is central to all our services. We can offer practical and emotional support and information as well as technology training, peer support and advice around employment. Simply call 1850 33 43 53 to learn more.”
“Receiving a diagnosis of AMD can be overwhelming for anyone, but this is not a journey that you have to make alone. Our support services are free and available to anyone living with sight loss”, says Kevin Whelan, CEO of Fighting Blindness. “Looking after your eyes and making little changes could make day to day activities easier. Alongside leading a healthy lifestyle, our members living with AMD find technology to be very helpful. Smart phones, which can come with voice technology, have many apps to help with reading, navigation as well as other tasks.”