At least 20 per cent more elderly people in Hong Kong are seeking treatment every year for an eye condition that could lead to blindness, a specialist from the city's major private eye hospital says.
Dr Marten Erik Brelen, of Chinese University, said the trend goes against the old perception that age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is less common in Asia than in the West.
"Traditionally we believed AMD is more common among Caucasian populations as the occurrences of disease-susceptible genes are more frequent," Brelen told the South China Morning Post. "But in recent years we found genes combinations among Asians that lead to other subtypes of the AMD condition, which is harder to treat and requires more therapy."
In Hong Kong, AMD is the leading cause of blindness and accounts for 23 per cent of all people who have lost their sight, according to the Hong Kong Society for the Blind.
The Hong Kong Eye Hospital in Kowloon, which is the largest treatment centre for eye disease and a training ground for ophthalmologists in the city, saw an increase of around 20 per cent of patients affected by AMD each year amid the city's ageing population, Brelen said.
He added: "People who have a family history of AMD are very likely to be affected by the condition after the age of 50. If they know they are at high risk of having AMD, they should take early precautions - such as quitting smoking, wearing dark glasses in sunlight, and eating more green leafy vegetables."
AMD is a condition that usually affects the elderly and results in a loss of eyesight in the centre of the macula - a yellow spot near the centre of the retina - caused by damage to the retina.
Symptoms of the condition include blurry vision, blind spots, and distorted images - which the elderly often perceive as a normal part of old age - and could lead to blindness in months.
The World Health Organisation says AMD is the third largest cause of visual impairment, after cataracts and glaucoma, and leads to blindness in 8.7 per cent of cases.
Previous Asian studies have suggested that the prevalence rate of AMD among Chinese aged 65 or over could be as high as 9.2 per cent. It was 12.7 per cent for Japanese aged 50 or over.