February is dedicated to spreading awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the leading cause of blindness for senior citizens. Macular degeneration can result in low vision, a phrase optometrists use to refer to substantial vision loss that cannot be helped by standard measures such as regular eye glasses, contacts, medication or even eye surgery. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, impairment occurs to the macula, the area of the retina which is responsible for sharp vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a blurring of central vision, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision Impairment from AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but occasionally impairment can be sudden. Early signs of vision loss from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or very distorted sight. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and attention can slow progression of the degeneration and therefore thwart vision impairment. For individuals who have already experienced vision loss, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those at higher risk of AMD include seniors, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and being overweight. Paying attention to overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Individuals who suffer from low vision should speak to an eye care professional about low vision training and specialized equipment that can facilitate a return to favorite activities. After an extensive eye exam, a low vision professional can prescribe helpful low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
While AMD is more common in seniors, it can affect anyone and therefore it is recommended for everyone to have an annual eye exam to determine eye health and discuss preventative measures for AMD and low vision.