February is national age related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the leading cause of low vision and blindness in Americans age 60 years and older and affects 1.6 million Americans. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the rates of AMD are expected to reach “epidemic proportions”. AMD is a progressive disease with no known cure. It slowly steals vision as it affects the retina, a paper-thin tissue lining the back of the eye, and causes the cells in the area to die. As a result, if you have AMD, you see blind spots, grayness and other distortions in the center frame of your vision.
Here’s what you need to know…
The exact cause of AMD is not known. But there are a number of risk factors that may play a role. Some you can help control, some you can’t.The same things that put you at risk for heart disease and stroke also put you at risk for AMD. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Risks you cannot control include age, family history, gender and race.
AMD symptoms include blurriness, wavy lines, or a blind spot. You may also notice visual distortions such as:
- Straight lines or faces appearing wavy
- Doorways seeming crooked
- Objects appearing smaller or farther away
If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. If you are diagnosed with wet AMD, it is important to see a Retina Specialist for the most appropriate care
Reducing your risk for AMD
Even though there is no known cure for AMD, practicing healthy daily lifestyle habits can reduce your risk for it. A healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining healthy blood pressure are important first steps. Other healthy habits that can lower the risk of AMD include:
- Eat a diet with plenty of green, leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens, and fresh fruit.
- Fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids is good for eye health. Try to include it in your diet at least once or twice a week. Types of fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, and albacore tuna.
- It’s important to keep your body healthy. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The healthier your body, the more it can foster good eye health.
- Protect your eyes. Wear sunglasses and a hat with a visor in bright sunlight to protect your eyes from potentially harmful ultra-violet (UV) light and blue light.
Living with AMD
Millions of people have macular degeneration and millions of them continue to do everything they always did. Because you never become blind with AMD, there is always sight available if you know how to use it.
Your peripheral vision helps you to get around the house and outside. There are devices and techniques for everything from reading to cooking to watching sports on TV. You may have to stop driving at some point, but for everything else, there is a solution.
If you are losing sight, there are some simple things you can do on your own to improve your ability to see. Don’t become discouraged! You will probably need to try out multiple devices before you find one that works for you.
Things you can do on your own:
- Improve the lighting in your home and office. This may not necessarily mean that you should increase the lighting or the brightness, but instead reduce the glare, which is often a problem for people with low vision.
- Use high contrast for reading and writing. Write in large letters with a broad felt tip pen on white or light paper.
- Use large print books or try other media, like books on CD’s or a e-reader.
- Use a hand held magnifier.