A Hawke's Bay optometrist is calling on locals to have an important conversation about their family's history of eye health.

Specsavers Napier optometrist Scott Charlton is placing a spotlight on macular degeneration, a disease that is thought to affect 6646 Hawke's Bay residents and which is the leading cause of legal blindness in New Zealand.

Responsible for 50 per cent of all cases of blindness globally, macular degeneration is one of the diseases that affects the retina at the back of the eye, which is responsible for central vision.

When macular degeneration occurs, central vision gradually becomes reduced. In some cases, it can become distorted and lead to complete loss of central eyesight over time.

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While there are multiple lifestyle risk factors, family history has been identified as one of the most important attributing factors, particularly in the development of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

In fact, individuals with a parent or sibling with AMD have a 50 per cent likelihood of also being diagnosed with the disease.

AMD is usually related to ageing and most frequently affects people over 45. It's estimated that in New Zealand approximately 1 in 10 or 218,987 people in this age group have AMD. By 2020, the projected number of people experiencing vision loss or blindness from AMD is 16,2804.

Despite this, eye health is an important conversation that many New Zealanders have admitted to not having with their family. Research has revealed that 63 per cent of New Zealanders aren't aware of AMD or don't know their family history of the disease.

Charlton says: "while there is no cure, the irreversible effects of macular degeneration can be managed and slowed if detected early by an optometrist and lifestyle risk factors are addressed".

"This is why I'd love for all Hawke's Bay residents that are in a position to do so to have the conversation with their family sooner rather than later. It's also imperative to get your eyes tested by an optometrist at least once every two years from the age of 40."

In another step to aid early detection, Specsavers Napier has invested in hospital-grade 3D diagnostic technology, OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography) which will enable its optometrists to obtain even more detailed information about the eye than ever before.

With these scans being included in eye health checks for all patients, at no additional cost, Specsavers Napier is embarking on the most extensive every-patient eye disease screening programme in Hawke's Bay undertaken to date.

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"By introducing OCT technology into our practice and screening every single patient, we are improving our detection rates of macular degeneration, transforming the way we care for our patients to deliver a new standard in eye health assessment and patient care in Hawke's Bay." Scott added.

For more information about Macular Degeneration New Zealand or to make a donation for research, awareness and support, visit www.mdnz.org.nz.