What is Macular Degeneration (MD)?

The macula is the central part of the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The retina processes all visual images. It is responsible for your ability to read, recognise faces, drive and see colours clearly. You are reading this information using your macula.

MD causes progressive macular damage resulting in loss of central vision but the peripheral vision is not affected.

How common is MD?

MD is the leading cause of blindness* and severe vision loss in Australia.1 One in seven people over the age of 50 years is affected in some way and the incidence increases with age.2

What are the types of MD?

There are two types of MD. The Dry form results in a gradual loss of central vision. The Wet form is characterised by a sudden loss of vision and is caused by abnormal blood vessels growing into the retina. Immediate medical treatment is essential if symptoms occur.

What are the risk factors?

MD is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors. People over the age of 50 years are at risk. If you smoke or have a family history of MD, your risk of developing the disease is much greater.

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Have your eyes tested and make sure the macula is checked.

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle, control your weight and exercis regularly.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Limit yourintake of fats, eat fish two or three times a week, eat dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily and a handful of nuts a week.
  • In consultation with your doctor, consider taking a zinc and antioxidant supplement.
  • Provide adequate protection for your eyes from sunlight exposure, especially when young.

Key symptoms may include one or more of the following:

  • Difficulty with reading or any otheractivity that requires fine vision.
  • Distortion, where straight lines appear wavy or bent.
  • Distinguishing faces becomes a problem.
  • Dark patches or empty spaces appear inthe centre of your vision. The need for increased illumination, sensitivity to glare, decreased night vision and poor colour sensitivity may also indicate that there is something wrong. If you experience any of these symptoms contact your eye care specialist immediately.

What treatments are available for MD?

Treatment options are dependent on the stage and type of the disease. Current treatments aim to keep the best vision for as long as possible and in some cases may potentially provide visual improvement, but there is presently no cure. Early detection is vital in saving sight.

Early detection is important

The early detection of any form of MD is crucial because the earlier you seek treatment, the more likely you are to have a better outcome compared to those who wait. MD can cause many different symptoms. Difficulty with your vision should not be dismissed as part of just ‘getting older’. In its early stages MD may not be noticed but it can be detected in an eye test before any visual symptoms occur. Early detection of changes can allow you to take steps to slow the progression of MD.

What help is available?

Low vision aids and services
People with varying degrees of vision loss continue to lead independent lives with the support of low vision services and visual aids.Technology is rapidly increasing to benefit people with low vision.

* Legal blindness.

** Any changes in diet or lifestyle should be undertaken in
consultation with your doctor.

1. Mitchell P,Taylor HR, Keeffe JE,Vu H,Wang JJ, Rochtchina E, Pezzullo LM.Vision loss in Australia. Medical Journal of Australia 2005; 12: 565-568.

2. VanNewkirk MR, Nanjan MD,Wang JJ, Mitchell P,Taylor MD, McCarty CA.The prevalence of age-related maculopathy:The Visual Impairment Project. Ophthalmology 2000; 107: 1593-1600.


Information contained in this fact sheet is considered by the Macular Degeneration Foundation Ltd to be accurate at the time of publication.While every care has been taken in its preparation, medical advice should be sought from a doctor.The Macular Degeneration Foundation Ltd cannot be liable for any error or omission in this publication or for damages arising from its supply, performance or use, and makes no warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied in relation to this publication.