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New Zealand’s Major Cause of Blindness

New Zealand’s Major Cause of Blindness.


The eye disease macular degeneration (MD) is fast becoming a serious medical problem worldwide and is the major cause of blindness in New Zealand with 1 out of 7 New Zealanders over 50 with some form of macular degeneration.

This includes 25,000 New Zealanders with the more severe form of Macular Degeneration - wet MD. Untreated this form of MD causes loss of central vision within 2 years

An urgent call is now being made by Macular Degeneration New Zealand (MDNZ) for all over 50’s to have their eyes tested, specifically for MD, either with an optometrist or an eye specialist.

Dr Dianne Sharp, Chairman of Macular Degeneration New Zealand, said there are number of new treatments and ways of managing MD but first it needs to be identified and the best and most reliable way is by early diagnosis.

“ A research study done under the auspices of the American Medical Association showed that in the United States, over 15 years from 1994 to 2008, incidents of macular degeneration dropped by 30% which is attributed to life style changes such as smoking, diet physical activity, awareness and education” continued Dr Sharp.

Macular Degeneration New Zealand (MDNZ) is a charitable trust that promotes education and awareness to highlight the need to address this burgeoning health problem.

“By the time people reach their 50’s they take their sight for granted not knowing that MD exists or that they could be susceptible resulting in partial blindness,” explained Dr Sharp,
“add to that there is also a major cost to the country.”

Current treatments for wet MD with drugs can ensure up to 70% of patients maintain vision or notice improvements. Dry MD is managed with the use of supplements and the risks can be reduced by following the eyecare checklist ( below)

It is estimated that the cost of legal blindness due to increased accidents particular falls and admission to residential care is $21,000 per person per year. With 1 out of 7 New Zealanders over 50 affected with MD in some form that can be
major investment for the country.

Some other hard facts about MD are:

• That current smokers have 3 times the risk of developing the disease developing it 10 years earlier

• Up to 50% of people who have MD in one eye will develop MD in their second eye within 5 years

• Visual impairment decreases the quality and length of life with over 40% higher incidence of depression in MD patients than those without MD.

The recent release of the New Zealand movie “Hook Line and Sinker” about a man who has MD and how he and his family cope, dramatically highlights this often neglected and rarely talked about eye disease.

“The movie makes MD real with the human consequences and it is important that education and diagnosis of MD is strong and ongoing,” concluded Dr Dianne Sharp. MDNZ

Key Signs of Macular Degeneration

Distortion, where straight lines appear bent.

Loss of Central Vision – central blind spot

Loss of ability to read and drive

Loss of ability to recognise faces

Eye Health Checklist

• Have your eyes tested and make sure the macula is checked.

• Don’t smoke

• Keep a health lifestyle, control your weight and exercise regularly

• Eat a health well-balanced die. Limit your intake of fats

• Eat fish two to three times a week.

• Eat dark green leafy veges and fresh fruit daily and nuts

• Consider taking a zinc and antioxidant supplement under advice from your doctor.

• Protect your eyes from the sun, especially when young.


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