February is dedicated to creating awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the foremost source of visual impairment for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration can result in low vision, a term eye care professionals use to categorize major vision loss that is also known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, impairment is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which enables clear vision in the central visual field. AMD causes a blurring of the central vision zone, but typically doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Low vision due to age-related macular degeneration is usually gradual but occasionally vision loss can be sudden. Early signs of low vision from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or very fuzzy vision. While AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early diagnosis and treatment is known to halt progression of the disease and therefore prevent low vision. For those who have already suffered from vision impairment, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include individuals over 65, females, Caucasians and people with light eyes, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to ultraviolet light and being overweight. Maintaining overall physical health and good nutrition has been shown to be preventative.
Those who suffer from low vision should speak to their optometrist about low vision rehabilitation and specialized devices that can enable a return to favorite activities. After a thorough examination, a low vision specialist can suggest appropriate low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive devices such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
While macular degeneration is more common in the elderly, it can affect anyone and therefore it is recommended for everyone to have a regular eye exam to determine eye health and discuss preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.