February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the foremost source of vision loss for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration often leads to low vision, a phrase optometrists use to categorize substantial vision loss that cannot be helped by usual measures such as normal eye glasses, contact lenses, medication or even surgical procedures. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the area of the retina which produces clear vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a vision loss relating to the central vision zone, but typically doesn’t affect peripheral vision.
Vision Impairment from age-related macular degeneration is usually progressive but on occasion impairment can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of vision impairment from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or very fuzzy vision. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and attention is known to halt progression of the disease and subsequently prevent vision loss. For those who have already lost acuity, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those at higher risk of AMD include seniors, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eyes, severe farsightedness or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and inactivity. Paying attention to overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Individuals who are living with low vision should speak to their eye doctor about low vision training and specialized devices that can support self-sufficiency. After a proper eye exam, a low vision expert can suggest suitable low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Although macular degeneration is more common in those over age 65, it can affect anyone and therefore it is wise for everyone to schedule a regular eye exam to assess eye health and discuss preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.