February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading source of vision loss for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration often results in low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to describe major visual impairment that cannot be improved by usual treatments such as normal glasses, contact lenses, medication or even surgical procedures. For those with AMD, a progressive eye disease, impairment occurs to the macula, the area of the retina which produces sharp vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a disruption in or blurring of central vision, but usually doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Low vision due to age-related macular degeneration is usually gradual but rarely vision loss can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early signs of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually fuzzy vision. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and treatment can slow progression of the degeneration and therefore avoid vision impairment. For those who have already experienced vision loss, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and individuals with light eye color, severe farsightedness or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Paying attention to overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Individuals who are living with low vision should consult with an eye doctor about low vision training and special equipment that can support independence. After a proper assessment, a low vision specialist can prescribe appropriate low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While AMD is more likely in the elderly, it can affect anyone and therefore it is wise for every individual to have a yearly eye exam to assess eye health and learn about preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.