February is national low vision awareness month
What does “low vision” really mean? According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), low vision is a visual impairment, not corrected by standard glasses or contact lenses, which interferes with the ability of millions of Americans and that of about 135 million people worldwide to perform everyday activities. The Wisconsin Optometric Association (WOA) and its member doctors are eager to bring attention to the difficulties low vision can place on quality of life for those affected and educate those same individuals about ways to improve their day-to-day lives. Therefore, the WOA, along with the American Optometric Association (AOA), recognizes February as National Low Vision Awareness Month.
The most recent American Eye-Q® survey conducted by the AOA reveals that U.S. adults are indeed quite concerned about the potential for vision loss as it relates to their quality of life. When asked as to which physical ability they worry most about losing, more than half of all adults surveyed answered “vision.” Vision loss ranked about 20 percent above memory loss and far above the loss of physical mobility and hearing. Adults who were concerned about developing serious vision problems most feared becoming unable to live independently, with 44 percent of those surveyed expressing this sentiment.
A majority of people develop low vision because of eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which accounts for almost 45 percent of all low vision cases and is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Visual impairment at any age can decrease an individual’s mobility and self-esteem. Although lost vision usually cannot be restored, it does not have to mean loss of independence or a reduced quality of life.
According to Dr. Kellye Knueppel, 2013 WOA president and Milwaukee and Madison area optometrist, “Early diagnosis by an eye doctor is very important in treating low vision and preventing it from progressing, especially if you have glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes or AMD.” WOA doctors encourage all adults, especially those who are noticing even slight changes in their vision, to visit their eye doctor each year as a preventative measure.
In addition to visiting an eye doctor on a routine basis, the WOA recommends everyone practice a healthy, smoke-free lifestyle including proper diet and exercise. Following these suggestions along with taking the antioxidant vitamins C, E, A and zinc may also help reduce the risk of vision loss.
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