While we've been enjoying the recent heatwave, with record-breaking temperatures and clear skies, it's important to remember the need to protect your eyes from the sun as well as your skin.
This Macular Week (26 June - 2 July) - which aims to raise awareness of a range of macular-related conditions - we at Specsavers will be advising customers about the risk of sun exposure and the importance of wearing sunglasses or contact lenses with sufficient levels of UV protection.
Age-related macular degeneration disease (AMD) is the most common form of macular damage and is currently the leading cause of sight loss in the developed world. It occurs when a person's retinal cells die off and are not regenerated, causing visual impairment and in some cases, blindness.
While numerous factors can increase the risk of developing the condition, including smoking, a poor diet and genetics, we're spending this week highlighting the role UV rays play in causing AMD.
The condition affects more than 600,000 people across the UK. It's a staggering amount - especially when you consider the fact that just a few simple lifestyle changes can improve your chances of avoiding the condition.
What a lot of people don't realise is that UV rays can be as harmful to your eyes as they are to your skin , therefore it's crucial that people ensure they are wearing sunglasses or UV blocking contact lenses throughout the summer months to protect against the harmful exposure.
My advice is to look out for sunglasses that meet the European Safety standards, as well as at least 80% light reduction - that way you know that your exposure to UV light is significantly reduced.
Sally Harvey, Chief Executive of Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), said:
'We know that almost half of all cases of sight loss are preventable, and this is why RNIB recommends people protect their eyes from the sun this summer by wearing their sunglasses.'
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration, also known as AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration) is a condition that affects your central vision. The macula is found at the centre of the retina, where incoming rays of light are focused. AMD affects activities requiring detail, such as reading and writing. As it is an age-related process, it usually involves both eyes, although they may not be affected at the same time.
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet.
Macular degeneration accounts for almost 50% of those registered as sight impaired in the UK, with an estimated half a million people having some degree of the condition in the UK.
What causes it?
Dry AMD is caused by the gradual break down of light-sensitive cells in the macula over several years. Wet AMD is caused by the growth of blood vessels underneath the macula, which can leak or cause scarring.
It is not known why this is, but it tends to happen as people get older. There are also several risk factors associated with macular degeneration:
• Family history
What are the symptoms?
Macular degeneration isn't painful. You may not even notice you have the condition until you experience a loss of vision.
The more common of the two conditions, dry AMD affects your ability to see fine detail. You may find it difficult to read, use your computer, watch the television, drive, etc. Some people may not realise the change in vision, as the deterioration is so slow.
Wet AMD involves a sudden and sometimes dramatic decline in your central vision, usually in one eye. Typically, wet AMD develops in people who have already had dry AMD. It is very important that anyone who has unusual symptoms, such as straight lines appearing to be wavy or blurring of the central vision, contacts an optometrist as soon as possible.
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