An eye test that is currently not available here could help prevent more people from going blind.
Macular pigment screening, which is done in countries such as Britain, could complement existing eye checks to narrow down who is most at risk, and doctors hope this could be done here in future.
The macula is the central part of the retina and produces the sharpest vision. Its pigment is believed to protect the light-sensitive retina from damage.
A local study of 95 Singaporean Chinese has revealed that abnormally low levels of the pigment were found in older and overweight people, who are known to have a higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness in older people.
"This suggests that macular pigment screening may be a useful approach to predict one's risk of developing AMD so that early pre-emptive measures such as lifestyle changes can be initiated," said Dr Yip Chee Chew of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
Dr Yip, head of the hospital's department of ophthalmology and visual sciences, announced the findings yesterday. The study team was led by Dr Kumari Neelam, a clinician-scientist in the same department.
The researchers are doing similar studies on Malays and Indians as well, to better understand the importance of such screening for these ethnic groups here.
Yesterday also marked the launch of AMD Awareness Week, which is now in its 10th year.
AMD becomes more common with age. It is the third most common cause of blindness for people aged over 60 here.
Awareness is important, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor at the event yesterday.
"Blindness is a disability most feared by people, and yet not many know what AMD is about," she said. Prevention and early detection of potentially blinding conditions are crucial to help the elderly lead independent and active lives, she added.
As part of AMD Awareness Week, restructured hospitals and optical shops will be offering eye screening to those aged 50 and above for $10 till next Sunday.
Pre-registration is required. Visit www.ktph.com.sg for more details.
This article was first published on Oct 12, 2014.
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