Low vision affects millions of Americans, especially older adults. During the month of February, we observe Low Vision Month to create awareness of the difficulties of living with vision impairments, like age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and the rehabilitation services available to help.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, also known as the macula. The macula is responsible for focusing central vision in the eye. It collects detailed images at the center of the field of vision, then sends them through the optic nerve and into the brain. So, when the macula begins to deteriorate, images are not received correctly, contributing to wavy or blurred vision. If left untreated, macular degeneration can result in the loss of central vision.
There are two types of macular degeneration: dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration is the most common type, while wet macular degeneration is less common, but more aggressive. In the wet stage, new blood vessels begin to form under the retina. Oftentimes, these blood vessels leak fluid or bleed into the retina where vision can become distorted.
Who is at risk?
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of central blindness or low vision among the elderly and can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. The biggest risk factor for macular degeneration, inevitably, is aging. It’s most likely to occur in those 50 and older. However, factors like race and smoking habits also contribute to the likeliness of developing the disorder. Caucasians are more likely to develop macular degeneration than African Americans or Hispanics/Latinos. Additionally, smoking more than doubles the risk of developing AMD. Macular degeneration can be detected during routine eye exams.
Can AMD be prevented?
Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, there are injectable medications available to treat wet AMD and vitamins available to slow the progression of dry AMD. Additionally, dieting, exercise, avoiding smoking and protecting your eyes from UV rays can decrease the risk of macular degeneration.
If you believe you are at risk of developing macular degeneration or suffer from low vision, contact your eye doctor to schedule an eye exam.