The number people in the UK suffering from a condition that causes blindness is expected to rise by a quarter in the next decade, research suggests.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss in the western world yet only half of adults have heard of it.
A poll of more than 4,000 people for the College of Optometrists found a lack of awareness of the condition, with people also unaware that diet and smoking is linked to eye disease.
Research published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology earlier this month predicts cases of AMD in the UK will rise by a quarter by 2020, mostly because people are living longer.
More than 600,000 people suffer from AMD in the UK at present, and 239,000 are estimated to lose their sight due to the condition by the end of this year.
By 2020, more than 750,000 people are likely to have the condition, with more than 290,000 losing their sight in that year, according to the predictions.
In the College of Optometrists’ survey, only 36% of smokers knew of the link with eye disease and only half of all people were aware that a healthy diet can help cut the risk of AMD.
Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser to the college, said: “While AMD is a condition associated with older age, there are steps you can take earlier in life to minimise your risk.
“Research suggests that a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, brightly coloured fruits and vegetables and oily fish may help prevent AMD.
“Smoking also doubles your chances of developing the condition so quitting can also reduce your risk.
“I would also recommend that you regularly check the vision of each eye separately so that you can spot early changes.”
Dr Blakeney said it was worrying that so few people were aware of the symptoms.
These include distorted vision, such as straight lines becoming wavy or objects appearing the wrong size.
Blurry or “blank” patches in central vision are another symptom, and people may also have difficulty reading, recognising people’s faces, driving, looking at small objects and watching television.
Dr Blakeney said: “There are two forms of AMD, wet and dry.
“There is currently no cure for either forms but early diagnosis and treatment of wet AMD - which is acute - is crucial in order to prevent vision loss.
“Dry AMD is which more common but develops gradually, is not treatable but there are services available to support people with this condition.
“By making people more aware of AMD and the impact that it can have, we hope to increase detection and people seeking access to support services.”