Common diseases affecting the macula, including diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration, can lead to vision loss and blindness
Marking the launch of the inaugural Macula Month (May), study results released today by Macular Disease Foundation Australia highlight the need for Australians, particularly those living with diabetes, to be more aware of macular disease and how to minimise the risk.
Macular disease is a term used to describe a number of diseases that affect the macula (located at the centre of the retina, at the back of the eye). Two of the most common diseases affecting the macula include diabetic eye disease (such as diabetic retinopathy) and age-related macular degeneration.
Despite macular disease being the leading cause of blindness in Australia, a YouGov Galaxy study, commissioned by Macular Disease Foundation Australia, indicates that 91 per cent of Australians are unsure or unaware of the function of the macula.
One of the most common diseases affecting the macula, diabetic eye disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness in working-aged Australians. Yet, the study shows that 60 per cent of people diagnosed with diabetes do not know what the macula’s function is. Alarmingly, 64 per cent of those diagnosed with diabetes are unaware that the eyes can be affected by diabetes.
Ms Dee Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of Macular Disease Foundation Australia says the findings of this study are concerning because everyone diagnosed with diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic eye disease.
“If you are diagnosed with diabetes, having a comprehensive eye test every two years should be a priority. It is important to let your optometrist know that you have been diagnosed with diabetes and ask about your macula. Macula Month is the perfect time to make that appointment,” says Ms Hopkins.
Professor Greg Johnson, CEO of Diabetes Australia agrees that these findings are concerning, particularly when you consider the prevalence of diabetes in Australia.
“Around 1.7 million Australians are currently living with diabetes. Approximately 1.2 million know they have the condition, while an estimated 500,000 are living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes. Of the 1.2 million people who have been diagnosed, more than 300,000 (between 25 and 35 per cent) have some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and about 65,000 have progressed to sight-threatening eye disease., 
“We strongly encourage people diagnosed with diabetes to have regular eye tests, and to ask a health professional about the health of their eyes.
“It’s also important for people at risk of type 2 diabetes to get their eyes checked. For some people, a visit to the optometrist or ophthalmologist could be the first time a health professional notices the signs of type 2 diabetes,” says Professor Johnson.
The study does contain some good news. It shows that the number of Australians aged over 50 who are aware of having their macula checked in the last two years has risen from one in three in 2007 to two in three in 2018.
Ms Hopkins says, “Many people in our community are at risk of developing macular disease but just don’t know it. Those over 50 are at higher risk of age-related macular degeneration, and everyone with diabetes is at risk of developing vision loss from diabetic eye disease.
“No matter what your age, if you have sudden changes in your vision you need to have your eyes tested immediately.”
While there has been an improvement in the number of people having their macula checked, when it comes to reducing the risk of macular disease, the survey showed that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of Australians aged 50 and over don’t know what to do to reduce the risk of macular disease.
According to Macular Disease Foundation Australia, there are some steps that can reduce the risk of macular disease. These include:
- Regularly have a comprehensive eye test and ask about your macula.
- If you smoke, quit!
- Maintain an eye-healthy diet and lifestyle.
Ms Hopkins says, “During Macula Month, we hope that people think about their macula health, learn the risk factors associated with macular disease and have a regular, comprehensive eye examination, including having their macula checked.
“Knowledge is definitely power in the defence against macular disease, so it’s imperative that Australians learn what they can do to minimise their risk.”
For information about macular disease, or to talk about what to do if you or a loved one has been diagnosed, contact Macular Disease Foundation Australia on 1800 111 709 or visit http://www.mdfoundation.com.au
 Guidelines for the management of diabetic retinopathy, NHMRC 2008
 S. Keel, J. Xie, J. Foreman, P. van Wijngaarden, H.R. Taylor, M. Dirani. The prevalence of Diabetic Retinopathy in Australian Adults with Self-Reported Diabetes: The National Eye Health Survey. Ophthalmology, 124 (7) (2017), pp. 977-984.
 ‘Eyes on the future – A clear outlook on age-related macular degeneration’. Report by Deloitte Access Economics & Macular Degeneration Foundation, 2011. 2018 prevalence estimates are derived from a straight-line extrapolation between 2015 and 2020 estimates in this report.
 Guidelines for the Management of Diabetic Retinopathy. NHMRC 2008.