Eye experts have launched an education campaign about the leading cause of blindness in Hong Kong. They are offering free screening to raise awareness of macular degeneration, which is caused by deterioration of the central part of the retina. The disorder is believed to be increasing as the population ages and eats more western-style food. The campaign is being jointly organised by the College of Ophthalmologists of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Ophthalmological Society. Chow Pak-chin, chairman of the college's committee handling public education, said: 'We hope to have a better understanding of the prevalence of macular diseases in Hong Kong after the screening.' Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common macular disease afflicting people in Hong Kong. With rising levels of fat and cholesterol in diets, ophthalmologists fear an upsurge in AMD. Other factors contributing to AMD include diabetes, smoking, ultra-violet light, hypertension, short-sightedness and family history. Although the average age for the onset of AMD is 60, people much younger can get it, depending on the degree of their short-sightedness. 'Sufferers of AMD will lose their central sight, which is the most important part [of vision] in their lives,' Dr Chow said. 'For example, when we want to read a word, we use the central part of our vision rather than the peripheral part.' To lessen the onset of macular degeneration, Dr Chow advises people to 'avoid fatty foods, stop smoking and to wear sunglasses to block out UV light'. He also stressed the importance of regular check-ups to detect any changes in the macula and for early treatment. According to Dr Chow, people with more than one factor that contributes to macular degeneration should go for a check-up at least once a year. Education events and free screening sessions for people over 60 will be held at Sha Tin Town Hall from 3pm to 6pm on September 21. For information about public education events call 2871 8892.