Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition that most often affects adults over the age of 50. Wet AMD is the most serious subtype, as it often leads to rapid and sudden vision loss.
Sudden blurriness, distortion, or blind spots in your vision can be frightening — especially if you’re working and are concerned about whether you can maintain your job despite wet AMD.
While you might need to make changes at work, having a wet AMD diagnosis does not mean that you need to quit your job.
Aside from anti-VEGF treatments to help slow down the progression of vision loss, your ophthalmologist may recommend rehabilitative services and assistive devices to help you with your everyday tasks, including work.
Here’s what you need to know about managing vision loss at work, as well as what rights and resources are available to you.
Wet AMD impacts your central vision, which helps you see objects, people, and text straight in front of you. Your vision might also become blurry or distorted, making it harder to see details. This type of vision loss impacts the images you see far away as well as those that are up close.
Some of these effects on your vision are traced back to macular scarring, which is caused by leaking from blood vessels in your retina, and macular edema, fluid in the buildup in the retina. Early treatment via anti-VEGF injections can shrink these abnormal blood vessels and stop further progression of vision loss.
Vision loss causing blind spots can also be the result of geographic atrophy, where the retinal cells in a particular area of the eye atrophy and die.
The overall impacts of wet AMD at work can vary by the type of job you have. For example, if you work frequently with computers, you may have difficulty reading on screens. Such reading difficulties may also translate to words and numbers on paper.
If you have a job that requires operating a motor vehicle or heavy machinery, you may find that changes to your vision lead to concerns about safety.
It’s up to you to determine when and how to share information about your diagnosis and related needs with your employer.
Keep in mind that your employer can’t ask you questions about your diagnosis, but they can ask you what reasonable accommodations you need if you disclose your condition.
They may also have the right to ask you questions about your vision if they believe that you can no longer perform your job safely.
Vision loss doesn’t always mean you need to leave your job. Talk with your employer or doctor about the following resources that make it possible to keep working with wet AMD.
Vision rehabilitation services
When diagnosed with wet AMD, your ophthalmologist may recommend additional vision rehabilitation services. Not only do such therapies help you learn how to see better more generally, but you may also learn techniques that can help you do your job better.
For example, since wet AMD affects central vision only, you may learn techniques to help you use your peripheral, or side, vision more effectively.
In addition to your ophthalmologist, your vision rehabilitation team may include an occupational therapist, low-vision specialist, and mobility specialist. If you have medical insurance through your employer, you may be able to ask your HR representative whether such services are covered.
Some employers may also offer in-house counseling services that you can use at little to no cost to you. A professional counselor is another potential member of your vision rehabilitation team who can help you learn how to manage changes from wet AMD.
Reading assistive devices
Reading is an important everyday activity, and depending on the type of job you have, you might work with texts and numbers on a regular basis. Wet AMD can
The first thing you may discuss with your employer is access to low-vision assistive devices. Options might include:
- reading lamps
- brighter lights for your office/workspace
- larger texts on paper and screens
- computer programs that read texts aloud
- smart tablets
- keyboards and phones with larger buttons
- portable, handheld magnifying glasses
- video magnifiers
- bold, thick markers for taking notes so you can read them more easily
- a desktop or portable closed-circuit television (CCTV) to assist with reading printed materials
Aside from assistive devices, you may need more time to go through reading materials, whether they’re on a computer screen or on paper. Talking with your employer about this accommodation ahead of time can help prevent frustrations down the line.
Alternative transportation or role
Wet AMD may also make it challenging to drive a car on your own. Dark spots and blurriness in your vision could make it hard to see other cars in front of you, and you might find it more difficult to drive to work in the early morning hours or at night due to less natural light.
If you normally drive yourself to work, you may consider other modes of transportation. Depending on where you live, public transportation may be an option, as well as carpooling with a co-worker. Other possibilities include nonprofit services to support transportation.
On the other hand, if your job requires you to drive a vehicle and you’re no longer able to do so, talk with your employer about the possibility of taking on another role.
Time off for critical appointments
Aside from considering how wet AMD may impact your job, you’ll also consider how to manage your condition and prevent further vision loss overall.
Standard anti-VEGF injections work best when administered early in your condition. In most cases, this treatment involves a series of injections. Depending on how advanced your wet AMD is, you may need to repeat your treatment sooner.
Depending on your job, you may need to take time off — either paid or unpaid — to make these critical appointments with your ophthalmologist. Your employer must allow you the time to do so without the risk of losing your job.
Wet AMD is a lifelong condition, but medications like anti-VEGF injections can help prevent further vision loss. Treatment, regular checkups with your doctor, and modifications at your workplace can also help you maintain your job.
It’s important to understand your rights as an employee so that reasonable accommodations may be made at your workplace. These include items to help you read better and give you extra time to get your tasks done.
If you start to feel you can no longer conduct your job in a safe manner, talk with your employer about potential other roles. You may also consider applying for social security disability benefits, per your doctor’s advice.