February is dedicated to increasing awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the number one cause of blindness for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration often results in low vision, a term eye doctors use to refer to substantial visual impairment that cannot be helped by standard treatments such as regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine or even surgical procedures. For those with AMD, a progressive eye disease, impairment is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which enables clear vision in the central visual field. The disease causes a vision loss relating to central vision, but usually doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Low vision from AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely disruptions in vision can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early signs of vision loss from AMD include blurred areas in your central vision or very fuzzy sight. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and attention can stop progression of the disease and therefore thwart low vision. For individuals who have already suffered from vision impairment, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include individuals over 65, females, Caucasians and people with blue eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and obesity. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Individuals who are living with low vision should consult with an eye care professional about low vision training and specialized equipment that can enable a return to daily activities. After an extensive assessment, a low vision specialist can suggest appropriate low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive devices such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Because AMD and other eye diseases can be treated only by early diagnosis, eye doctors suggest a routine yearly eye exam for all ages. Your awareness can lead to prevention of vision loss.