This month is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness for seniors. AMD can result in low vision, a phrase optometrists use to refer to significant vision loss that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, damage occurs to the macula, the area of the retina which produces sharp vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a vision loss relating to central vision, but usually doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Low vision due to AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but on occasion disruptions in vision can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of vision impairment from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or unusually distorted vision. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early diagnosis and attention is known to stop advancement of the degeneration and therefore avoid vision loss. For those who have already lost acuity, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Individuals who suffer from low vision should consult with an eye care professional about low vision training and special equipment that can support a return to favorite activities. After a proper eye exam, a low vision specialist can recommend suitable low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While macular degeneration is more likely in those over age 65, it can affect anyone and therefore it is recommended for every individual to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and learn about preventative measures for AMD and low vision.