This month is dedicated to increasing awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading source of blindness for individuals age 65 and over. Macular degeneration often leads to low vision, a term optometrists use to describe substantial visual impairment that cannot be corrected by standard measures such as normal eye glasses, contacts, medicine or even eye surgery. For those with AMD, a progressive eye disease, damage occurs to the macula, the area of the retina which is responsible for sharp central vision. AMD causes a disruption in or blurring of the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Low vision from age-related macular degeneration usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely vision loss can be sudden. Early symptoms of vision loss from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually fuzzy vision. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early detection and attention is known to halt progression of the disease and therefore thwart vision impairment. For those who have already experienced vision loss, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include individuals over 65, females, Caucasians and individuals with blue eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and obesity. Maintaining overall physical health and good nutrition has been determined to be preventative.
Individuals who suffer from low vision should consult with an eye care professional about low vision training and specialized equipment that can facilitate a return to daily activities. After a thorough eye exam, a low vision professional can recommend suitable low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as special light fixtures and signatureguides.
Although AMD is more likely in the elderly, it can affect anyone and therefore it is important for everyone to have a yearly eye exam to determine eye health and discuss ways to prevent AMD and low vision.