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Complications of macular degeneration

NHS ChoicesMedical Reference

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Your eyesight is very important, and finding out you have a condition that affects your vision can be difficult to come to terms with.

Adjusting to the change in your sight can be frustrating. Simple everyday tasks, such as reading, may suddenly become much more difficult.

You should speak to your GP if you are struggling with everyday activities, or finding your macular degeneration is having a significant effect on your daily life. They should be able to put you in touch with local support groups who can provide guidance and practical help.

Alternatively, you could call the Macular Society helpline on 0300 3030 111 (lines are open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday), or the Royal National Institute for Blind People helpline on 0303 123 9999 (lines are open 8.45am-5.30pm, Monday to Friday).

Depression and anxiety

Having to cope with losing part of your vision, and coming to terms with the loss of some of your independence, can affect your mental health. It is estimated that around a third of people with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may have some form of  depression and/or anxiety.

If you are struggling with the changes to your life, you should speak to your GP or ophthalmologist (your eye specialist). They will be able to discuss treatment options with you, such as counselling, or they can refer you to a mental health professional for further assessment.

Driving

You will need to inform the DVLA and your insurance company if you drive and are diagnosed with macular degeneration. This is because the condition may affect your ability to drive.

If your eyesight is only minimally affected, it may still be safe for you to drive a vehicle. However, you may have to perform a series of sight tests to prove this. Central vision is very important for driving, and if you do not meet the standards set by the DVLA, you will not be able to drive.

Charles Bonnet syndrome

Sometimes, people with macular degeneration can experience Charles Bonnet syndrome, a condition that causes visual hallucinations. It is estimated that approximately 12% of people with macular degeneration experience Charles Bonnet syndrome.

As macular degeneration can prevent you from receiving as much visual stimulation as you are used to, your brain can sometimes compensate by creating fantasy images, or using images stored in your memory. These are known as hallucinations.

The hallucinations you experience may include unusual patterns or shapes, animals, faces or an entire scene. They can be either black and white, or colour, and may last from a few minutes to several hours. They are usually pleasant images, although they may be unsettling and scary to experience.

Many people with Charles Bonnet syndrome do not tell their GP about their symptoms because they worry it may be a sign of some sort of mental condition. However, the hallucinations that you experience with this syndrome are the result of a problem with your vision and not a reflection of your mental state.

Speak to your GP if you experience any kind of visual hallucination. There are ways they can help you learn how to cope with your hallucinations. The hallucinations will usually last for around 18 months, although for some people they may last years.  If you would like to know more, the Macular Society can provide you with a free DVD and information pack.

Medical Review: February 01, 2012

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