Sight loss and AMD

Over 50s risking unnecessary sight loss

Had you heard of Age-related Macular Degeneration? We hadn't and found this piece informative with sensible advice! 

  • Around a  third (32%) of those aged 50+ have never heard of the condition Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) which is the biggest cause of sight loss in their age group
  • Less than half (47%) would make an appointment with a GP or optician straightaway if they experienced wavy lines or blurred vision
  • Urgent medical help is crucial, as one form of the condition can take your sight in as little as three months

People over 50 are putting their eyesight at risk due to a lack of awareness of Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), warns the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

AMD is the biggest cause of sight loss for those over 50, affecting more than 500,000 people in the UK, yet new research has revealed that almost around a one third (32%) of people in this age group have never heard of the condition (1)

There are two main forms of AMD, wet and dry. There is no current treatment for dry AMD but sight saving treatment is available for the wet form if diagnosed in time.

However, the research, commissioned by the RNIB, also revealed that less than half (47%)of those aged 50 and over would make an appointment with their optician or GP straightaway if they experienced blurry vision or wavy lines, which can be common symptoms of the condition (2).

Wet AMD can take your eyesight in as little as three months if left untreated, so seeking expert medical advice immediately is crucial. The recommended time it should take to be diagnosed is seven days; however people must be able to spot the signs immediately in order to seek medical help.

The exact causes of AMD are not known but genetics, diet, alcohol intake and sensitivity to sunlight are all believed to have an impact. Smoking is a clear risk factor, with smokers twice as likely to develop the condition than non-smokers. It's as strong as the link between smoking and lung cancer.

The survey showed that almost two thirds (63%) of those aged 50 and over didn’t think that stopping smoking could reduce the risk of sight loss, whilst almost three quarters (74%) didn't know that  wearing sunglasses may reduce a person’s risk of sight loss (3).

Dame Judi Dench OBE was diagnosed with macular degeneration in 2012. It was discovered that she has both wet and dry AMD and has been treated with injections into the eye to stop any further deterioration. Dame Judi said;

"There are more than half a million people in the UK with age- related macular degeneration.  I am one of them.  Whilst my sight has been affected, I count myself as one of the lucky ones. Anyone who notices a change in their eyesight must go to their opticians.  If you're over 50, you are most at risk of developing AMD, no matter how young you feel inside."

Helen May, RNIB's Optometrist, said: "Losing your central vision can have a significant effect on individuals and makes everyday tasks such as reading, telling the time and preparing food more difficult, and can prevent people from driving. However, it doesn't have to be this way and people should not be losing their sight unnecessarily when there's treatment available.

"RNIB is encouraging people over 50 to find out how to spot the signs of wet AMD and understand why it's important to act quickly. About 40,000 people develop wet AMD each year but the deterioration of your sight can be managed with treatment, if caught in time."

If straight lines start to appear wavy, curved or distorted it may mean you have AMD. Small print becomes difficult to read even when wearing glasses and people's faces start to appear blurry.  Make sure you are able to spot the signs and if you notice these changes in your vision make an appointment to visit your optometrist immediately.

Find out more about AMD and other eye diseases at Alternatively, call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999’.

Spot the signs is part of the Save our Sight (SOS campaign) which aims to challenge unnecessary sight loss, encourage regular eye checks and promote the importance of timely access to vital treatment.

NOTES ( 1+2+3) All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2151 adults of which 966 were aged 50 or older. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27 February and 1 March 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). We're here for everyone affected by sight loss - that's almost 2 million people in the UK. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit

About RNIB’s ‘Save our Sight’ Campaign

Spot the signs is part of RNIB's Save our Sight (SOS) campaign which aims to challenge unnecessary sight loss, encourage regular eye checks and promote the importance of timely access to vital treatment.

Over 50 per cent of sight loss is avoidable, yet you or someone you love could lose your sight. Those of us lucky enough to live beyond the age of 90 will face a 1 in 2 chance of losing our sight. With a population growing in age and obesity, RNIB’s SOS campaign is working to tackle the timebomb of avoidable sight loss in the UK.

About AMD

There are two main forms of AMD, wet and dry. Both conditions impact on the macula, a tiny area of the retina at the back of the eye. It is responsible for our central vision, fine detail and much of the colour vision.

In dry AMD there is a gradual deterioration of the macula as cells die off and are not regenerated. With wet AMD the onset is much more rapid as abnormal blood cells begin growing in the macula, causing much quicker deterioration in vision.

Patients described their initial symptoms of wet AMD in a variety of ways. Descriptions included wavy lines, zig-zag lines, letters in a crossword dancing about, a mauve area, cloudy vision, a glare or black spot.

Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in the over 50s. There are more than 500,000 people with the condition in the UK. About 40,000 people develop wet AMD each year.

10-15 per cent of people who develop dry AMD also develop the wet form, and if you have wet AMD in one eye there is a 40 per cent chance you will develop wet AMD in the other eye in the next five years.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists guidelines state that patients should be diagnosed within one week, and treated within a further week of diagnosis - a total of 14 days.

© RNIB  April 2013

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