February is Low Vision Awareness Month and the perfect time to learn how to reduce your risks and keep your eyes healthy. Approximately 14 million Americans are affected by low vision - a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with standard eyeglasses, medicine, or surgery. Often resulting from an eye disease or injury, low vision interferes with everyday tasks like reading, watching television, or driving a car.
The most important thing you can do for your eyes is to have a yearly comprehensive eye exam. Many eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, have no symptoms in the early stages and can only be detected through an exam. Learning your risk factors for various eye disease is another step you can take to ensure healthy vision. You are at an increased risk for glaucoma or cataracts if you are African American, have diabetes, or are over the age of 60. Macular degeneration is more prevalent in Caucasians, smokers, and people with a family history of the disease.
You can reduce your risk for low vision by protecting your eyes from external factors with the use of safety glasses and sunglasses. Eye injuries can cause various impairments from cloudy or distorted vision to complete blindness. Always wear safety glasses when handling chemicals, performing tasks that involve flying debris (trimming hedges or woodworking), or playing sports. Low vision may also be caused from damage from harmful UV rays. Overexposure has been linked to the development of cataracts and may increase your risk for macular degeneration. Since UV damage is cumulative, it is most beneficial to make wearing sunglasses a habit as early as possible. Look for sunglasses that have large frames to protect the area around the eyes and lenses that block 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays.
Signs of low vision can include central vision loss, peripheral (side) vision loss, night blindness, hazy/blurred vision, and even loss of ability to distinguish colors. Low vision is not a normal symptom of aging. If you experience any changes in your vision, a visit to your eye doctor will distinguish normal changes in your eyes from an eye disease.While treatments for low vision have come a long way in recent years, an ounce of prevention is still worth more than a pound of cure. Vision aids are available to help manage low vision by magnifying objects and filtering light but nothing will restore sight once it is lost.