February is dedicated to increasing awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one cause of blindness for seniors. Macular degeneration can result in low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to describe substantial visual impairment that is also known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, impairment occurs to the macula, the part of the retina which produces clear vision in the central visual field. The disease causes a disruption in or blurring of the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss due to AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but occasionally impairment can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early signs of vision loss from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually fuzzy vision. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and treatment can stop progression of the degeneration and therefore thwart vision impairment. For individuals who have already suffered from vision impairment, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and people with blue eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and obesity. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients can reduce your risk.
Individuals who are living with low vision should speak to an eye care professional about low vision training and special devices that can enable a return to daily activities. After a proper examination, a low vision specialist can recommend appropriate low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While macular degeneration is more likely in those over age 65, anyone can be affected and therefore it is wise for everyone to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and learn about preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.