February is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the leading source of visual impairment for senior citizens. Macular degeneration can result in low vision, a term eye doctors use to refer to major visual impairment that cannot be corrected by typical treatments such as regular glasses, contact lenses, medication or even surgical procedures. 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 vision loss relating to 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 on occasion disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early symptoms of vision loss from AMD include shadowy areas in your central visual field or very fuzzy vision. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early diagnosis and treatment is known to halt 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, women, Caucasians and people with light eyes, severe farsightedness or a genetic disposition. Controllable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, exposure to UV light and being overweight. Proper exercise and diet including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Individuals who suffer from low vision should speak to their optometrist about low vision rehabilitation and special devices that can facilitate self-sufficiency. After a thorough assessment, a low vision expert can help you obtain appropriate low vision devices such as magnifiers and non-optical adaptive aids such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
Although AMD is more common in the elderly, anyone can be affected and therefore it is wise for every individual to have a regular eye exam to assess eye health and learn about preventative measures for this and other serious eye diseases.