February has been announced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the number one source of vision loss for individuals age 65 and over. AMD often leads to low vision, a term eye doctors use to describe substantial visual impairment that is also called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a degenerative eye disease, damage occurs to the macula, the part of the retina which is responsible for clear vision in the central visual field. The disease causes a vision loss relating to the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Low vision due to age-related macular degeneration is usually gradual but on occasion disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of low vision from AMD include shadowy areas in your central vision or very distorted vision. Although AMD doesn’t have a cure yet, early detection and attention can halt progression of the disease and subsequently prevent low vision. For those who have already suffered from vision impairment, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include individuals over 65, females, Caucasians and people with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients can reduce your risk.
Those who are living with low vision should speak to their eye doctor about low vision rehabilitation and specialized equipment that can enable self-sufficiency. After an extensive assessment, a low vision specialist can prescribe helpful low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Since AMD and other eye diseases can be halted by early diagnosis, eye doctors recommend a routine annual eye exam for all ages. Your awareness can lead to prevention of vision loss.