Regular Eye tests
Although Inherited Retinal Degenerations (IRD) may be rare they can occur in any family with no previous history of vision loss. Regular eye examinations are important to ensure that conditions are detected early.
Even if you are diagnosed with an, as yet untreatable, inherited retinal condition, you still need regular eye examinations. Cataracts and Macular Oedema occur very often in IRD and they are treatable.
Children should have an eye test around five years of age. Older patients should see an eye- care practitioner every two to four years and more regularly over the age of forty. Glaucoma for example can be detected in the early stages by having a pressure test. This is a silent and serious disease that may cause irreversible damage to the retina, but is treatable in the early stages.
Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) may present as dry or wet. The dry form may also develop into the more aggressive wet form. In AMD any sudden and severe change in vision needs immediate Anti-VEGF treatment from an eye specialist. Daily monitoring with an Amsler grid (free of charge to members) is available from Retina South Africa.
Nutrition, vision and lifestyle
Good nutrition has always been recognised as a necessity for good vision.
In Inherited Retinal Degeneration (IRD) this is particularly true.
The carotenoids Lutein and Zeaxanthin are structural components of the central retina – the Macula. Nutritional studies have shown benefits from increasing the intake of these by regularly eating leafy green vegetables. Spinach, herbs and kale are all good sources of this group of carotenoids.
A diet low in saturated fats with plenty of fruit and vegetables is recommended. Oily fish, high in Omega 3 Fatty acids has also been advised for AMD patients.
Dietary supplements may also be beneficial but should be discussed with your eye-care practitioner. In AMD the AREDS study showed a slower conversion from dry to wet AMD for patients taking a specific supplement containing vitamins, minerals and carotenoids.
Supplements containing Lutein, Zeaxanthin, Alpha Lipoic Acid and L- Glutathione showed significant retinal protection in animal models of RD. This supplement is available in South Africa.
Dietary restrictions are just as important. Patients with Stargardt Disease, Cone Rod Dystrophy or a proven ABCA4 mutation should NOT take any supplements containing Vitamin A or beta carotene as this may speed the rate of degeneration.
Research has shown that smoking increases the risk of AMD very significantly. This risk factor is compounded by genetic risks.
Other oxidative factors may also negatively influence IRD – pollution, artificial food additives such as colourings, flavourings and artificial sweeteners.
Physical fitness may also positively influence the gene expression- this new science of epi-genetics is now being studied.
Sunlight protection is important for all IRD, wear sunglasses with good UVa and UVb protection.
Alcohol in moderation is not thought to influence IRD.