February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the number one cause of visual impairment for seniors. Macular degeneration is one of the causes of low vision, a phrase eye doctors use to describe major visual impairment that cannot be corrected by typical measures such as normal eye glasses, contacts, medication or even eye surgery. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which is responsible for clear vision in the central visual field. The disease causes a blurring of the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision Impairment due to AMD is usually progressive but rarely disruptions in vision can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of vision impairment from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually distorted vision. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and treatment is known to slow advancement of the disease and subsequently 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 seniors, females, Caucasians and people with light eyes, severe farsightedness or family members with the disease. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and inactivity. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Those who are living with low vision should speak to an eye care professional about low vision rehabilitation and specialized equipment that can facilitate a return to daily activities. After an extensive assessment, a low vision professional can recommend appropriate low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While AMD is more likely in seniors, it can affect anyone and therefore it is important for everyone to have a regular eye exam to assess eye health and discuss preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.