Over-50s told to get eye test 'every two years' to detect issues earlier
A leading consultant is encouraging the over-50s to book an eye test every two years and to report drastic changes in vision within a week, or risk losing their sight.
Mark Cahill, an ophthalmologist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital and Beacon Hospital, both in Dublin, said as the population lives for longer, the issue should be a concern for all older people.
However, with regular eye tests, alertness for any dramatic vision changes and a healthy diet, with regular exercise, Mr Cahill believes the older generation can prevent or damage-limit the effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
The condition, a leading cause of vision loss among the over-50s, causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the middle of the retina which allows a person to see objects and straight ahead.
"The pigment gets thin in our eyes as we age," Mr Cahill told the Irish Independent.
"This is the layer that's important for the retina and this happens to us after 50.
"As the population is getting older in Ireland, we're living longer, and while that's great it means people have to be aware to have regular check-ups as a matter of course. People over 50 need an eye test every two years and if they notice distortions with their vision or loss of sight, it's imperative to be seen within a week."
AMD is the number one cause of sight loss in Ireland for the over-50s and over 100,000 people over 50 are living with the condition. The earlier AMD is detected, the sooner it can be treated to reduce its progression. More than 7,000 new cases of AMD are diagnosed each year in Ireland.
The symptoms - blurred vision, distortion and dark spots - often go unrecognised in the early stages of the condition, but with regular eye tests problems could be detected more rapidly.
Mr Cahill said in the worst-case scenario, if people didn't seek help for sudden vision deterioration, damage to the eye could be "irreversible".
"Irish people aren't so good at getting regular health checks but in the US and Canada, people have routine health checks and they're much healthier as a result," he said.
"Older people should be getting regular exercise, whether that's walking, cycling or swimming, and eating green vegetables in particular."
Dr Cahill has been working on groundbreaking research with Trinity College colleagues. The team recently discovered a component of cells in the retina could play a major role in the development of dry AMD.
The disease has two types - dry and wet - and though there's treatment for the wet type, there are no treatments or cures yet approved for dry AMD, which is the most common type here and globally.
AMD Awareness Week runs from September 7 to 15.