February is National Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)/Low Vision Awareness Month. This awareness campaign focuses on raising awareness about AMD and low vision. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for Americans over the age of 50. According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, over ten million Americans have AMD. The incidence of macular degeneration in our elder population has almost doubled over the past decade. In the United States, the most common causes of low vision are AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
Low Vision and AMD
Low vision is a general term that refers to partial sight or sight that cannot be fully corrected with medications, eye glasses, contact lenses, or surgery. Specialized equipment such as magnification devices and computer access software are used to help people with this condition maximize their remaining vision.
AMD is a disease that affects the macula, the central part of the retina (a layer at the back of the eye where a visual image is formed). This can cause the central part of your vision to become wavy or blurry. For example, doorways may look crooked or objects may look smaller. In some cases, there may be a blind spot in the center of your vision. Since this part of the eye is necessary for performing daily tasks such as identifying faces, watching television, reading, writing and driving, AMD can have a significant effect on your life.
In some cases, AMD may advance at a slower rate, so vision loss does not occur for a long time. In other cases, the disease may develop at a more rapid rate, leading to a loss of vision in one or both eyes.
AMD alone does not lead to complete blindness, but the loss of central vision can interfere with the performance of everyday tasks. Early detection and understanding of your diagnosis are the first steps in the process to slow or minimize vision loss.
Who’s at Risk for AMD?
Risk factors of AMD include the following:
Age - The biggest risk factor for AMD is age. The condition is most likely to occur after the age of 60, but it can happen earlier.
Smoking - Smoking can double the risk of AMD.
Race - Caucasians are at higher risk for AMD than African Americans or Hispanics.
Genetics - Those with a family history of AMD are at higher risk.
How Lifestyle Affects AMD
Research has found links between AMD and lifestyle choices. By making healthy choices, it is possible to reduce or slow down the progression of AMD.
Refrain from smoking.
Make exercise part of your regular routine.
Keep healthy levels of blood pressure and cholesterol.
Eat a diet full of green, leafy vegetables and fish.
The American Macular Degeneration Foundation encourages people to be tested for AMD or low vision. Through early detection of this condition, you can begin preventive care. Schedule a complete eye exam from a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist, and repeat this exam yearly to ensure that your health care professional can monitor changes in your eye health. If you are experiencing drastic vision impairment, have a low vision examination to get a proper diagnosis. The AMD/low vision examination will take longer than a regular eye exam. This is so your doctor can get an accurate analysis of your vision status.
Preventive Measures for Reducing Risk of AMD
It’s important to remember that you can take preventive measures to reduce your risk of AMD. If you have already been diagnosed with this condition, your doctor will instruct you in the preventive steps that can slow the progression of this disease.
You can help reduce your risk of AMD or low vision through simple preventive measures:
Maintain good lighting in your home and workplace.
Avoid writing or reading with low contrast computer screens.
See your optometrist or ophthalmologist at least once a year or if you notice your eyesight becoming blurry or wavy.
Ask your doctor for recommendations for vitamins and supplements designed for preventive eye care.
Wear proper eyewear with ultraviolet (UV) protection when going outdoors; choose eyewear that blocks UV rays and absorbs most high-energy visible (HEV) radiation (also called “blue light”).