Optometrists in the Bega Valley want to draw the community's attention to the health of their eyes this month.
Macular Month, which runs from May 1-31, aims to raise awareness of macular disease, while an optometrist in Merimbula has said myopia in children is increasing at alarming rates.
Macular disease is the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia and its most common form is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a chronic and progressive disease of the macula which can lead to loss of central vision.
"One in seven Australians over the age of 50 - about 1.3million people - have some evidence of AMD, but may not know it because the earlier stages of disease typically have little or no impact on vision," Bega optometrist Peter D'Arcy said.
He said risk factors included if another family member had AMD, smoking and age as it primarily affects those over the age of 50.
Common symptoms of AMD include:
- Difficulty in reading or doing any other activity that requires fine vision;
- Distortion, where straight lines appear wavy or bent;
- Problems distinguishing faces; and
- Dark patches appearing in the centre of your vision.
Tips for optimal macular health are:
- Visit an optometrist once every two years if you are 50 years and over (every year if over 65), or as advised by your eye health professional, to look for early signs of AMD;
- Don't smoke - smokers are at three to four times higher risk of AMD than non-smokers;
- Exercise regularly and eat a macula friendly diet - fish two or three times a week, dark green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily, and a handful of nuts once a week can help reduce risk of AMD;
- Protect your eyes from sunlight exposure; and
- Monitor changes in your vision by using an Amsler grid if you have signs of AMD - an Amsler grid is a simple tool available free from Peter D'Arcy Optometrist Bega or Macular Disease Foundation Australia
"You should always check with your eye health professional about any changes in your vision," Mr D'Arcy said.
Also, Merimbula optometrist Jason Harley has urged parents to be aware and recognise if their child is at risk of myopia.
Sixty five per cent of Australian parents with children zero to 17 years old do not know what child myopia is and only 12 per cent of parents recognise the health risk that their children might develop later in life from myopia.
"Myopia, or short-sightedness, causes blurred distance vision, usually starts during childhood and typically progresses until a child stops growing," Mr Harley said.
"However, there are two main factors which can mean your child is more at risk of developing myopia: lifestyle and family history."
He said to slow the progression of myopia, and reduce longer term eye health issues, myopia needed to be managed.
"High myopia is associated with eye health risks later in life so reducing the prevalence and impact of myopia and understanding influencing factors is critical," he said.
Mr Harley said by 2050, it was estimated more than 50 per cent of the world's population will have myopia and 10 per cent or almost one billion will have high myopia.
Modern lifestyles may influence the development of myopia. These include:
- Low levels of outdoor activity and associated factors:
- Low levels of light exposure;
- Prolonged near tasks such as reading and gaming on portable devices; and
- Family history - the likelihood of developing myopia, particularly high myopia, increases when one or both parents are myopic. However, the exact link between a family history of myopia and development of childhood myopia remains uncertain.
For parents who were concerned their child might be myopic, or at risk of developing myopia, Mr Harley said the first step was to have their child's eyes tested.
"If your child is diagnosed with myopia, it is important that you talk with your optometrist about, not only correcting the immediate sight issue, but importantly what can be done to slow progression of myopia," he said.
For further information about child myopia talk to your optometrist.