February is dedicated to spreading awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the number one cause of visual impairment for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration is one of the causes of low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to describe substantial visual impairment that is sometimes known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which produces sharp vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a blurring of central vision, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision Impairment due to AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely disruptions in vision can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually fuzzy sight. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and attention can slow advancement of the degeneration and therefore avoid vision impairment. For those who have already suffered from vision impairment, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, hypertension, exposure to ultraviolet light and being overweight. Maintaining overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Those who suffer from low vision should speak to their eye care professional about low vision rehabilitation and special equipment that can support a return to favorite activities. After an extensive examination, a low vision specialist can suggest suitable low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While AMD is more common in the elderly, anyone can be affected and therefore it is important for every individual to schedule a yearly eye exam to assess eye health and learn about preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.