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Macular Disease: Risk Factors You Should Know

Macular disease checkup

Are you aware of how everyday activities could be slowly damaging your eyes without you even knowing? There’s a myth that only older adults need to worry about macular degeneration, yet factors like smoking, medications, UV exposure and poor diet can start affecting your macular health much earlier.

Understanding the risk factors of macular disease empowers you to take preventive measures, potentially preserving your vision and maintaining your independence as you age. But disregarding the lifestyle changes recommended in this article could accelerate the progression of eye diseases, potentially leading to irreversible damage and dependency on others.

Hello, I’m Juliet Menakaya, the owner and principal optometrist at Junic Eye Care. Our practice is distinguished by our Low Vision Clinic, where we have in-depth experience managing macular degeneration among other eye health challenges. We are committed to providing personalized care guidance to the residents of Canberra, helping them maintain optimal eye health and improve their quality of life.

Contact us today to schedule your eye care consultation and let us help you maintain clear vision for a brighter tomorrow. Or keep reading to discover if you are in a “high risk” category for eye problems.


Understanding Macular Disease

How often do you think about the health of your eyes? For many of us in Canberra, the focus might often be on maintaining our overall health, but our eyes, particularly the macula, play a critical role in how we see the world.

Macular disease primarily affects the central part of the retina, known as the macula, which is responsible for detailed vision used in activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces. Early detection and awareness are essential because, as the disease progresses, it can lead to significant visual impairment. Staying informed about the disease helps in recognizing early signs and taking timely action to preserve eye health.

Macular eye checkup
macular disease canberra

Smoking: A Major Risk Factor

Smoking is widely recognized as one of the leading risk factors for macular degeneration. Every puff not only harms your lungs but also has a profound impact on your eyes. Cataracts can also be more severe in smokers compared to non-smokers.

When you inhale tobacco smoke, you introduce harmful toxins into your body that can affect the blood vessels supplying the macula, leading to reduced blood flow and damage to this vital area of the eye. Second hand smoke can also cause similar damage.

Condition Risk Factor for Smokers
Macular Degeneration (Men by age 80) Risk is 3 times greater compared to non-smoking men.
Macular Degeneration (Women by age 80) Risk is 5.5 times greater compared to non-smoking women.
Macular Degeneration Smokers likely to develop AMD up to 10 years earlier than non-smokers.
Uveitis 2.5 times more prevalent in smokers than in non-smokers.
Diabetic Retinopathy Diabetes, leading to diabetic retinopathy and preventable blindness, is twice as prevalent among smokers.


To understand more about how smoking impacts eye health, watch the following video by Dr Joel Hayden.

Diet and Healthy Eyes

What we eat directly influences the condition of our eyes, particularly the macula, which is important for central vision. Incorporating the right nutrients can help protect this vital part of the eye, while poor dietary choices may accelerate its deterioration.

  • Negative Impact of Junk Food: Consuming a diet high in junk food, which typically contains excessive amounts of fats and sugars, can lead to the buildup of deposits beneath the macula. These deposits can impair the macula’s function, leading to deteriorated vision over time.
  • Beneficial Nutrients: Incorporating foods rich in specific nutrients can fortify macular health. Antioxidants, found abundantly in leafy greens like spinach and kale, help combat oxidative stress, which is a risk factor for macular degeneration.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to promote retinal health. Regular consumption of these fish can help maintain the structural integrity of the macula.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, and lutein also support macular health. Citrus fruits, nuts, eggs, and sweet potatoes are excellent sources of these vitamins and can be easily incorporated into a daily diet to aid eye health.

Proactively adjusting your diet to include these beneficial foods can significantly enhance the protection and long-term health of the macula. A balanced diet that reduces junk food and increases nutrient-rich foods provides the necessary support for optimal eye function.


How Medications Impact Macular Health

Medications are essential for managing health conditions but can sometimes unexpectedly impact our eye health. It’s crucial for those taking medication, especially individuals at risk for macular disease, to understand these potential side effects and discuss them with their healthcare providers.

  • Steroid Medications: Some classes of drugs known to affect macular health include corticosteroids, which are often prescribed for chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis or asthma. These can lead to increased eye pressure and glaucoma, indirectly affecting the macula.
  • Antimalarials: There is scientific evidence that antimalarial drugs, particularly hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which are commonly used to treat autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to macular damage when used long-term or in high doses. This condition is often referred to as “chloroquine retinopathy” or “hydroxychloroquine retinopathy.”
  • Heart Disease Medicines: Beta-blockers and thiazide diuretics, commonly prescribed for heart disease and hypertension, may contribute to dry eye syndrome and reduced tear production, which can exacerbate macular health issues. For instance, a patient managing hypertension with beta-blockers might experience subtle changes in their vision quality, prompting the need for closer monitoring of macular health.

Communication is key. Open dialogue with your healthcare providers about the potential side effects on the macula and possible preventive measures or alternative therapies is an essential step.


The Effects of UV Light on Your Macular

Where does the risk for your eyes come from on a sunny day in Canberra? Ultraviolet (UV) light, a component of sunlight, is well-known for its harmful effects on the skin, but its impact on our eyes, particularly the macula, is often overlooked.

UV light can cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the retinal tissues. The retina, and specifically the macula, is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress due to its high consumption of oxygen and high proportion of polyunsaturated fatty acids which can be damaged by reactive oxygen species generated by UV light.

Protective measures against UV damage are simple yet effective. Wearing sunglasses with 100% UV protection and a hat with a wide brim can shield your eyes from harmful rays. Additionally, opting for lenses with anti-reflective coatings can further reduce UV exposure. These simple steps can significantly decrease the risk of macular damage from UV light, preserving your eye health in the long term.


Lifestyle and Environmental Factors

How much influence do your daily activities and environment have on the health of your eyes? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Exercise and your surrounding environment play pivotal roles in maintaining not just overall health, but specifically the health of your eyes, including the macula.

Regular physical activity has been shown to improve blood circulation, which is vital for providing nutrients and oxygen to the eyes and for removing toxins. Engaging in exercises like walking, cycling, or swimming can help reduce the risk of developing conditions like macular degeneration by supporting vascular health and reducing inflammation.

However, the environment you live in also has a significant impact. Urban areas, with their higher levels of pollutants and lower air quality, can contribute to eye irritation and stress, potentially accelerating macular damage. Mitigating these effects involves conscious choices—like using air purifiers indoors and wearing protective eyewear against dust and chemical exposure outdoors.


Age Related Risks in Macular Diseases

Age is a significant risk factor for several ocular diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataracts. Each of these conditions tends to develop more frequently as individuals age, due to various physiological changes and the cumulative effects of environmental exposures and genetic predispositions over time. Understanding the relationship between age and these eye diseases can help in early detection and management, potentially preserving vision.

Age Group Summary of Ocular Health Risks Recommended Frequency of Eye Exams
In their 40s Subtle vision changes begin; increased risk for early AMD and early-onset cataracts. Early signs of glaucoma may appear, especially with a family history. Regular eye exams recommended. Every 2-4 years
In their 50s Increase in AMD risk; cataracts become more pronounced for some individuals as lenses cloud, reducing vision clarity. Glaucoma risk increases, necessitating frequent screening. Every 1-3 years
In their 60s Dramatic rise in AMD incidence, often reaching late stages with significant vision loss. Glaucoma and cataracts more common, often requiring medical interventions. Every 1-2 years
70 and older Highest risk for advanced AMD, leading to severe visual impairment or blindness. Increased frequency of glaucoma and cataract surgeries. Continuous monitoring of eye health essential. Annually


Eye Exams and Regular Eye Care

Why wait for a problem to occur when you can prevent it? Regular eye exams are fundamental in detecting early signs of macular disease, even before symptoms appear. By scheduling periodic eye check-ups, you are taking a proactive stance in preserving your vision. An optometrist can identify subtle changes in the eye that might indicate the onset of macular degeneration or other eye diseases.

Optometrists have access to a variety of advanced diagnostic tools to assess and monitor macular disease effectively. Here’s a summary of some key diagnostic tests:

  • Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT): This non-invasive imaging test provides high-resolution cross-sectional images of the retina. OCT is crucial for diagnosing macular diseases like macular degeneration and macular holes, and it can monitor changes in the retina over time.
  • Fundus Fluorescein Angiography (FFA): During FFA, a fluorescent dye is injected into the bloodstream. The dye highlights the blood vessels in the back of the eye so that they can be photographed. This test helps in identifying and locating leakages and abnormalities in the blood vessels of the retina, which are common in conditions such as diabetic retinopathy.
  • Amsler Grid Test: This simple diagnostic tool can be used both in an office setting and at home. Patients look at a grid pattern to check for any wavy, blurred, or dark areas in their vision. Changes in how the lines on the grid appear can be an early indicator of macular degeneration.
  • Autofluorescence Imaging: This technique uses a camera to detect fluorescent patterns in the retina without the need for dye injection. It helps in viewing changes in the retinal pigment epithelial cells, which are often involved in macular degeneration.
  • Visual Acuity Test: Using a standard eye chart or a viewing device, this test measures how well a person can see at various distances. It is a fundamental part of any eye examination, helping to determine the impact of macular disease on vision.

These eye tests are fundamental tools for optometrists, enabling them to detect, monitor, and manage macular diseases with greater accuracy and effectiveness.



At Junic Eye Care, we emphasize preventive measures to preserve your vision and independence. Our Low Vision Clinic is highly experienced in managing macular degeneration among other eye health challenges.

We encourage our patients to consider lifestyle factors which might be putting their eye health at risk. This includes not smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and applying sufficient UV protection when outdoors. Age and certain medications might be less avoidable risk factors but regular eye exams are the first step in monitoring for problems. Early intervention can avoid costly treatments for advanced macular related eye conditions in the future.

Book your consultation today and let us help you maintain optimal vision and eye health.

To visit our optometry practice, click the “Book Online” button at the top of the page or call (02) 6152 8585 today.

Author: Juliet Menakaya, O.D MPH

CANBERRA OPTOMETRIST Juliet obtained her Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Benin, Nigeria in 2006. She completed an internship programme before migrating to Australia, where she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Sydney in 2014. Following this, Juliet obtained a Master of Orthoptics from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in 2017. Juliet has completed her competency in optometry examination with OCANZ (Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand), and obtained her ophthalmic prescribing rights from ACO (Australian College Of Optometry Victoria). Juliet has worked in various positions, including retail Optometry, the Ophthalmology Department at Canberra Hospital, and more recently, at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (ANU). As a dedicated Canberra optometrist, Juliet is passionate about helping people with low vision, and binocular vision anomalies hence her interests in Low Vision Rehabilitation, Eccentric Viewing Training and Paediatric optometry.