February is dedicated to spreading awareness of macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision. AMD is the leading cause of visual impairment for senior citizens. AMD often results in low vision, a phrase optometrists use to describe substantial visual impairment that is also called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. For those with AMD, a progressive eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the part of the retina which produces sharp central vision. The disease causes a vision loss relating to the central vision zone, but typically doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Vision loss due to AMD usually comes on gradually and painlessly over time but rarely disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of vision loss from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or very distorted vision. Although there is currently no cure for AMD, early detection and treatment can halt progression of the degeneration and subsequently prevent low vision. For those who have already suffered from vision impairment, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those at higher risk of AMD include senior citizens, women, Caucasians and people with blue eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to ultraviolet light and obesity. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Those who suffer from low vision should speak to an optometrist about low vision training and specialized devices that can facilitate self-sufficiency. After an extensive eye exam, a low vision professional can help you obtain appropriate low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Since so many eye diseases can be halted by early diagnosis, optometrists suggest a routine yearly eye exam for all ages. Your awareness can lead to blindness prevention.