Degenerative Eye Disease

Degenerative eye disease, also referred to as macular degeneration (AMD), is a progressive condition that affects millions of people from around the world. The disease attacks the eye’s macular region, which is what helps you have sharp, clear vision. While it doesn’t usually result in complete blindness, those with degenerative eye disease usually have low vision because of their condition.

What Causes Degenerative Eye Disease?

Like most diseases, there are multiple causes for AMD. However, genetics do seem to be the leading cause of in the United States — and are responsible for more than half of those cases that are diagnosed. The disease itself doesn’t usually affect individuals until they are over the age of 50, but it can happen at an earlier age for some people too. 

S ome causes of degenerative eye disease can include, but are not limited to:

  • Oxidative Stress – This is how the body reacts to the oxygen around it. As tiny radicles form in the body, they can damage the cells in the eye. This is thought to cause degeneration in the eye tissue.
  • Genetics – Heredity can put you at risk for degenerative eye disease especially if an immediate family member has suffered from the disease.
  • Inflammation – Inflammation (whether from infection or another condition) can cause degeneration of the eye cells too.
  • High Blood Pressure, Diabetes or Smoking – Research has found a link between smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes with degenerative eye disease. Sometimes being hypertensive could cause your eye to degenerate, but in most cases, these types of issues can be resolved by fixing the underlying issue.

Degenerative Eye Disease and Low Vision

People who have low vision because of degenerative eye disease or AMD have to go through a period of adjustment. For some, the vision loss is gradual, but for others the vision loss can be quick.

Technology and Apps for Low Vision

There are numerous devices and apps for low vision individuals. These are designed to help a person function better and perform everyday tasks. Some things patients can find include:

  • Low Vision Devices – These help magnify images so that a person with low vision can see more clearly. The strength of the lenses will depend on how damaged the vision already is.
  • Magnifying Glasses – These types of glasses are designed to magnify what a person with low vision is looking at. They’re stronger than typical glasses and can help a person with low vision read books, write and read the computer screen.
  • Other Low Vision Aids – There are many low vision aids out there. For example, eBooks are considered a low vision technology because they can be magnified to a size that the patient can read. Bold-tipped markers are also used by people with low vision so that they can see what they are writing easier. High-contrast screens, such as those for a smartphone, tablet or computer, are also popular.
  • Built In Readers – Because this is the technological age, there are apps for people with low vision that help them use their technological devices with ease. For example, VO Starter is an iPhone app that allows people with low vision to use their smartphone with a built-in screen reader. This is compatible with devices that use VoiceOver technology and allows people with low vision to have things on their phone read to them — that way they don’t have to worry about being unable to view the screen.

You can buy apps like VO Starter from Low Vision Technologies

Check out VO Starter and other similar apps and see how they can help you perform everyday tasks that your low vision is limiting. 

Other common eye disorders are stargardt disease, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma and cataracts

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is actually a group of various diseases that are inherited and result in degeneration of the retina.

A steady decline in sight happens when the photoreceptor cells die off. Other related forms of RP are Bardet-Biedl syndrome, Usher syndrome, rod-cone disease, Refsum disease, and Leber’s congenital amaurosis.

Symptoms: In many cases, night and peripheral vision are affected first because the rods (outer part of the retina) deteriorate. This is why people most commonly associate night blindness with RP.

Central vision and color perception are also lost due to RP when the cones, which are the centrally located parts of the retina (which help with sharp central vision and color), deteriorate.

In most families, males are most affected by retinitis pigmentosa and it usually shows up in young adults. By 40, most RP patients are legally blind.

Degenerative Eye Disease: Glaucoma

Usually, folks over 40 will experience glaucoma eye disease, although it sometimes shows up in younger people. Heredity, diabetes, lack of exercise, and hypertension are known risk factors.

Glaucoma results in blindness and low vision when the optic nerve is damaged. When the pressure inside the eye becomes too high, the photoreceptors are affected.

Symptoms: Unfortunately, there are no symptoms during the early onset of glaucoma. This is unfortunate because it’s irreversible and while over 4 million people have this degenerative eye disease in American alone, it’s estimated that half don’t know they’re suffering from it yet.

Prevention: Be sure to take an eye test annually so it’s caught early. Regular exercise is helpful as it lowers eye pressure and also helps bring more blood flow to the eye.

No matter the type of degenerative eye disease you or a loved one may be experiencing, there are many new and exciting technologies available to help ease your burdens.

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Further Resources

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Visually Impaired Children - With the number of visually impaired children underreported by about 80%, it's vital that we help provide our children with the technology they need to survive.

Visually Impaired Veterans - Veterans have resources available to help obtain low vision devices and help with day to day activities.

Low Vision Clinical Trials - Discover clinical trials and research. I've lived with with low vision for over 25 years and am pleased to share with you the research & technology that makes for an independent life.

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