Today – Wednesday, April 27, 2022 – is National Tell a Story Day, and Jimmy Abegg’s story is definitely one worth sharing.
You may hear Ophthalmology related words/phrases and conditions thrown around all the time but probably don’t pay much attention to them, assuming none of those things would ever happen to you. Jimmy Abegg was the same way – he had never had any eyesight problems until 2015 when he was diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vison loss in older Americans. Abegg’s story is important because it displays the necessity of eye exams for everyone and will hopefully encourage each person that hears his story to keep up with routine eye exams, even if they have not experienced any eyesight problems at the time.
AMD is an eye disease that can blur or destroy a person’s central vision, according to the National Eye Institute. The eye disease affects a very specific part of the retina in the back of the eye called the macula – the part of the eye that controls sharp, straight-ahead vision. People with macular degeneration still have peripheral vision so they are not completely plunged into darkness but losing their central vision will be blurry or contain black spots. The loss of central vision can prevent a person from reading, driving, seeing people’s faces, watching TV, and browsing the internet, among many other common daily actions. AMD is broken down into two main types: wet and dry. Dry macular degeneration (dry AMD) is more common than wet macular degeneration (wet AMD). Sadly, there is no treatment for the late stages of dry AMD, forcing patients to adjust to a new way of life. There is a treatment for wet AMD though, consisting of drugs that are injected into the eye, or a combination of injections and laser treatments.
Symptoms of AMD vary depending on the type and how the disease has progressed; however, the National Eye Institute has identified the following as some common symptoms for late-stage dry or wet AMD:
- Seeing straight lines as crooked or wavy
- Seeing a blur at the center of your vision
- Developing blank spots in your vision
- Difficulty seeing in low light
- Noticing that colors are faded
If you notice that you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with your eye doctor. Additionally, although aging is the most common factor of developing macular degeneration, the American Optometric Association has identified some other possible risk factors. Please be aware of these risk factors and take any precautions that are possible in an attempt to lessen the chances of developing macular degeneration, along with simply monitoring your eyesight. The following are some identified risk factors for AMD:
- A family history of any kind of macular degeneration (family health history is important to know for general health conditions anyway)
- Excessive UV light exposure (make sure to always wear your sunglasses!!)
- Nutritional deficiencies (there are many articles and studies that provide the best vitamins to take and foods to eat for healthy eyes)
- Lack of exercise
Abegg, a musician, painter, and photographer, is just one of almost 2 million Americans over the age of 40 who is affected by age-related macular degeneration. On top of that, there are another 7 million Americans at substantial risk of developing the disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much to Abegg’s surprise, he was diagnosed with the dry form of AMD back in 2015 when all his photographs seemed to have a bump in the middle. The photographer just thought there was something wrong with his camera until the same was happening when he was driving – all the stop signs, people, and trees began looking curved. Abegg unfortunately had to give up many aspects of his daily like, like touring as a guitarist because he could see his pedalboard and driving because he could not tell the difference between a person and a sign. He can’t see a stage or a movie or read a book, forcing him to “say no to a lot of things” and rely on his wife for many things. At first the eye disease only affected his left eye, so he was still able to rely on his “strong and good” right eye for a couple years. However, both eyes are now severely destroyed by the macular degeneration to the point where there is just “a little rim of peripheral vison” left in the left eye, with the right eye following close behind, according to Abegg.
Many people do not realize that they can have normal vison their entire life, only to lose most of it simply because their body is aging. The scariest part is that the biggest risk fact is something we cannot control because the biggest risk is simply getting older. Although we cannot control our aging, we can monitor our health as we age, with the goal of catching any condition in the early stages before it has a big impact on the body. A perfect example of this is getting an eye exam at least once a year to monitor eye health or to take any necessary steps to protect any condition from advancing. This could have helped Abegg get on top of his macular degeneration, if he had simply been more considerate and proactive with his eye health. Use this story as encouragement/a reminder to be proactive about your health and call your eye doctor to set up a yearly eye exam.
Check out the resources below to read the full article about Jimmy Abegg’s story!
Pawlowski, A. “Going blind after a lifetime of normal vision: The toll of macular degeneration.” Today, April, 7, 2022. https://www.today.com/health/health/macular-degeneration-vision-loss-rcna23190.
Cirino, Erica. “Macular Degeneration vs. Cataracts.” Healthline, March 16, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/macular-degeneration-vs-cataracts.