Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), occurs most commonly in people around the age of 50 or over and is the leading cause of blindness in the western world.

Winfried Amoaku, Clinical Associate Professor and Reader in Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at Nottingham University, is an expert in AMD.

“This is a condition caused by wear and tear at the back of the eye,” he says.

Types of AMD that can occur suddenly

“There are two main types: dry and wet. The dry type is similar to wrinkling of the skin: the light sensitive cells of the retina, and the layer underneath the retina, begin to die off. This kind of AMD is slow-progressing.

“In the case of wet AMD, the same degeneration occurs; but, in addition, abnormal blood vessels also grow from the layer underneath the retina, and these leak fluid and bleed in the acute phase. As time goes on, this leak- age and the abnormal leaking vessels turn to scar tissue, comparable to a wound healing on the skin.”

This wet type is the most serious form of AMD and can occur very suddenly.

Vision lost within weeks without eye examination

In fact, it is possible to lose your eyesight within weeks if wet AMD is not properly treated. “We advise regular eye- checks,” says Professor Amoaku, “but we also ask people to monitor their central vision to ensure that it is not blurred or distorted.

"AMD of either type is painless, so it is easy to miss."

"The way to do this is to look at the straight edge of a door or window frame with one eye at a time, because the typical symptom of AMD is that straight lines become bendy or curved.”

AMD of either type is painless, so it is easy to miss. Yet, if caught early, wet AMD is treatable in many cases, using different drugs injected into the eye every month until the condition stabilises and constant monitoring becomes possible.

How to reduce progression by 25%

Treatment and prevention Currently, there is no treatment for dry AMD, but it is recommended that patients take ocular nutritional supplements containing vitamins and A, C, E, zeaxanthin and lutein which reduce the chance of progression by about 25 per cent.

“Ensure you have a healthy diet and that your blood pressure is well-controlled,” says Professor Amoaku. “We know, too, that AMD is more common in smokers — in fact, their risk is three times higher than non-smokers. Response of wet AMD to treatment is also reduced if you smoke. It is therefore important to avoid smoking, or stop smoking, if you do.”