February has been declared age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the number one source of blindness for individuals age 65 and over. AMD often leads to low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to refer to significant visual impairment that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a degenerative eye disease, damage occurs to the macula, the area of the retina which enables clear central vision. The disease causes a disruption in or blurring of the central vision zone, but typically leaves peripheral vision intact.
Low vision from AMD is usually progressive but rarely disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central vision or very fuzzy sight. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and treatment is known to stop progression of the degeneration and subsequently prevent vision impairment. For individuals who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include seniors, females, Caucasians and people with blue eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Risk factors that can be controlled include smoking, hypertension, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Maintaining overall physical health and a proper diet has been determined to be preventative.
Those who suffer from low vision should speak to an optometrist about low vision training and specialized equipment that can enable a return to daily activities. After an extensive assessment, a low vision professional can prescribe helpful low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive aids such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
Although AMD is more likely in those over age 65, anyone can be affected and therefore it is wise for every individual to schedule a yearly eye exam to assess eye health and discuss preventative measures for AMD and low vision.