February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the number one source of blindness for seniors. Macular degeneration often leads to low vision, a phrase eye care professionals use to refer to significant visual impairment that is sometimes called “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease, damage is caused to the macula, the area 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 doesn’t affect the peripheral visual field.
Vision loss due to AMD is usually progressive but on occasion impairment can drastically appear seemingly overnight. Early symptoms of low vision from AMD include shadowy areas in your central vision or unusually distorted vision. Although there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and attention is known to stop progression of the degeneration and therefore thwart vision loss. For individuals who have already experienced vision loss, low-vision rehabilitation and aids can help.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include senior citizens, females, Caucasians and individuals with blue eyes, severe farsightedness or family members with the disease. Controllable risk factors include smoking, hypertension, exposure to ultraviolet light and inactivity. Maintaining overall physical health and a proper diet has been shown to be preventative.
Those who are living with low vision should consult with an eye care professional about low vision rehabilitation and specialized devices that can support independence. After a proper eye exam, a low vision specialist can recommend helpful low vision aids such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Because so many eye diseases can be treated only by early diagnosis, optometrists recommend a routine annual eye exam for all ages. Your awareness can lead to blindness prevention.