New top-of-the-range equipment is helping the optometrists at Wanganui Eyecare with early detection of eye diseases, including macular degeneration.

May 20-26 is Macular Degeneration Awareness Week and Wanganui Eyecare optometrist John Boyle says the practice deals with a large number of people with the disease.

"Macular degeneration is generally age-related deterioration of central vision which is what we use every day for reading and looking at faces and other detailed tasks," Boyle said.

"There are two forms of macular degeneration. The dry form is a slow, progressive deterioration of vision for which there's no treatment. There's some evidence that supplementation may slow development of the disease.

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"Wet macular degeneration tends to progress more quickly and is more rapidly sight-threatening. There are treatments for wet macular degeneration which include medications being injected into the eye."

Age is the biggest risk factor for macular degeneration and there is some evidence that UV light is also a factor so wearing good quality sunglasses is important, Boyle said.

There is good evidence that smoking is detrimental to the macula and a healthy lifestyle, including eating lots of leafy green vegetables and reducing saturated fat, can help prevent the disease.

The early stages of macular degeneration are difficult for people to detect themselves but there is one easy way to check changes in vision.

"Monitoring using an Amsler grid a couple of times a week is a really good tool at home to pick up subtle changes in vision," Boyle said.

Using the Amsler grid, people may find straight lines appear wavy or bent and there are dark spaces or empty patches in the vision, indicating a distortion in vision and the need to get their eyes checked.

Wanganui Eyecare's new equipment is giving optometrists much better information about the health of patients' eyes, he said.

The Eidon machine is a confocal scanner of the retina.

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"In the past, we used digital retina photography," Boyle said.

"Confocal scanning uses a series of techniques to improve image resolution and gives us better quality images than digital photography can.

"Early detection of disease, including macular degeneration, can mean early referral and treatment. We're the only practice in Whanganui with the scanner and we've got it because we want to provide the best eyecare we can for Whanganui."

The Eidon machine's scan (left) of a retina with a bleed is much more detailed than a conventional retinal photograph of the same retina with the same bleed (right).
The Eidon machine's scan (left) of a retina with a bleed is much more detailed than a conventional retinal photograph of the same retina with the same bleed (right).

The practice has replaced its ocular coherence tomography (OCT) scanner with the latest OCT technology.

"The new OCT scanner can take measurements of the front surface of the eye which not many OCT scanners do," Boyle said.

"Both machines are important for monitoring of diseases like macular degeneration, giving us high quality images for monitoring people and sending them for treatment."