Eye Health Awareness Week takes place between 24 and 30 September 2018. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of conditions that can affect eyesight, and highlight issues faced by people who suffer from sight loss.
Vision Matters, the UK charity leading the campaign, provides support and research for those affected. The focus this year is on sight loss caused by macular disease. This is the biggest cause of blindness in the UK and affects more than one million people of all ages.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common type of macular disease, which generally occurs in people over the age of 50. Other less common conditions affect people of younger ages.
Every day in the UK, 200 people are diagnosed with advanced AMD, which occurs as a result of damage to the delicate cells of the macula (the part of the retina at the back of the eye) that is responsible for giving us sharp, central vision. The symptoms may include lines bending, black spots in the centre of a person’s vision, objects changing shape and colours fading.
There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD is the most common form of the condition, affecting approximately 90% of AMD sufferers, and develops gradually over time as small yellow deposits, known as drusen, build up under the macula. Loss of vision in patients suffering from dry macular degeneration is directly related to the location and amount of retinal thinning caused by the drusen. There is currently no treatment for dry AMD, but once the condition develops, patients should be kept under regular review so that any progression of the condition to wet AMD can be detected and treated quickly.
Wet AMD is the more serious condition. It affects 10% of AMD suffers and is much more aggressive than dry AMD. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula and leak blood and fluid, leading to scarring that causes loss of sight in the affected parts of the eye. Wet AMD should be treated urgently from the point of diagnosis because loss of vision caused by the condition can be rapid and can have devastating and irreversible effects on eyesight. If not treated immediately, the deterioration can lead to complete loss of central vision very quickly. The current treatment for wet AMD is successive injections of anti-VEGF drugs into the patient’s eyeball, which may stop or reduce new blood vessel growth or swelling. The treatment will not restore any vision that has already been lost, but aims to prevent further progression of the condition.
Commenting on Eye Health Awareness Week, Arran Macleod, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “We often take our eyesight for granted and statistics show that 14 million people in the UK do not visit the optician for regular eye tests. The symptoms of AMD can, at the outset, be quite subtle and may not be noticeable by patients performing everyday activities. It is only when the condition progresses, and causes serious and irreversible loss of sight, that patients then seek help. Visiting your optician twice a year increases the chances that any developing macular disease can be caught and treated early, reducing the risk of suffering permanent and significant sight loss.
“We have seen a rise in the number of enquiries from people who have suffered AMD and are unhappy about their vision after treatment. Sometimes this is because they have realised too late that they have developed wet AMD, and by the time they received treatment, their vision has already been damaged.
“In other cases, however, poor outcomes have been caused by mistakes. In particular, we have received enquiries from patients who have been diagnosed and treated for wet AMD, but who were not referred appropriately by their GP or optician. If patients with suspected wet AMD are not referred and treated urgently, they may suffer avoidable sight loss while they await their routine consultation date.
“If you have any concerns about the management of your or a family member’s wet AMD, please do get in touch with our specialist ophthalmic team who will be able to advise you on your options.”