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Optometrist giving eye exam to senior patient

The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology, The Medical Association of Alabama and the American Academy of Ophthalmology urge people to protect themselves from age-related macular degeneration

MONTGOMERY, Alabama (Feb. 10, 2021) - Even though Marlene Klein was having trouble recognizing familiar faces and began to mistake her fingers for carrots as she chopped vegetables, she had no idea she was slowly losing her vision to a leading cause of blindness, age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

That’s because her brain was compensating for the developing blind spots in her vision, and Klein is not alone.

According to a recent Harris Poll survey, most Americans are unaware that people do not always experience symptoms before losing vision to eye disease. During February, the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology, The Medical Association of Alabama and the American Academy of Ophthalmology are urging people to protect themselves from AMD vision loss by getting a baseline eye exam by age 40.

More than 2 million Americans are living with the most advanced forms of AMD, a number that is expected to reach 4.4 million by 2050. It is the leading cause of blindness among white Americans over 40, and it’s a leading cause of irreversible vision loss throughout the world.

“Our treatments for macular degeneration work better in the early stages of the disease, so it is important to see an ophthalmologist as soon as one notices visual problems,” said Dr. Andrew Hsia, an ophthalmologist and founder of Alabama Retina in Montgomery and Auburn.

AMD happens when part of the retina called the macula is damaged. It’s the part of the eye that delivers sharp, central vision needed to see objects straight ahead. Over time, the loss of central vision can interfere with everyday activities, such as the ability to drive, read and see faces clearly.

Because AMD often has no early warning signs, getting regular comprehensive eye exams from an ophthalmologist is critical. Academy guidelines state that adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40 — the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur.

From age 40 to 54, get your eyes examined every 2 to 4 years; from 55 to 64, every 1 to 3 years. By age 65, get an exam every one to two years, even in the absence of symptoms or eye problems. If you have risk factors for eye disease, you will need to be examined more frequently.

"Please remember that macular degeneration is inherited, so if a family member suffers from this disease it is especially important for you to have your eyes examined,” said Dr. Scott Parma, a board certified ophthalmologist who specializes in vitreoretinal medicine and surgery in Montgomery. “A simple vitamin can slow the progression of vision loss by 30% if started early enough."  

Ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – have more tools than ever before to diagnose AMD earlier, and to treat it better. But these advances cannot help patients whose disease is undiagnosed, or patients who are unaware of the seriousness of their disease.

“People’s lack of understanding about AMD is a real danger to public health,” said Dr. Rahul N. Khurana, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “As the number of people with AMD is expected to explode in the coming years, it’s more important than ever that we prioritize eye health and have our eyes examined regularly.”

More needs to be done to elevate eye health as a priority. According to that same recent Harris Poll, while 81 percent of respondents say they do everything they can to protect the health of their eyes, only 11 percent say eye appointments top their list of the most important doctor appointments to keep.

But Klein is not one of them. She is vigilant about keeping appointments with her ophthalmologist.

“I keep going back to see my ophthalmologist every month because I want to be able to see my husband’s face and to see my three beautiful daughters,” she said.

Her commitment has paid off. Even though her initial diagnosis more than 20 years ago was dire, today she can recognize the faces of her family and friends and cook without nicking her fingers.

About the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology

The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology is comprised of ophthalmologists who are licensed to practice medicine in Alabama and/or other states with the mission of promoting and advancing ophthalmic medicine in all phases. The Alabama Academy provides complimentary eyecare services to disadvantaged Alabamians through its non-profit Eye Care Alabama program. For more information, visit alabamaacademyofophthalmology.org.

About the Medical Association of Alabama 

Founded more than 140 years ago, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama is the professional association for some 7,000 physicians of all specialties throughout Alabama. The association exists to serve, lead and unite physicians in promoting the highest quality of health care for the people of Alabama through advocacy, information and education.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The Academy is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, it protects sight and empowers lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for its patients and the public. The Academy innovates to advance the profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Through its EyeSmart® articles on AAO.org, the Academy provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org