Aug 22, 2020
Many older Americans do not know they have one of the leading causes of blindness — glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease. These diseases are often asymptomatic in the early treatable stages. In addition, our brains are amazing in their ability to adapt to a slow loss of vision. This puts us at risk of future blindness. By getting yearly eye exams, your doctor is better able to catch an eye disease early enough to begin effective treatment. You may be able to save your sight, and possibly reverse damage that has already occurred.
These common eye diseases can cause permanent vision loss or blindness:
Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Developing a cataract means there is a clouding in the lens of the eye, and while the condition is slow to progress, you may notice that glare makes night driving dangerous or that you can’t read the small print on a menu or newspaper as you get into your 60s. Once diagnosed, there is no treatment for cataracts except surgery. However, cataract surgery is generally successful in improving vision.
- Diabetic retinopathy (DR)
The leading cause of blindness in working age American adults, DR is caused by uncontrolled, elevated blood sugar that damages blood vessels in the retina. Early stages of DR can often be controlled with lifestyle changes, such as keeping diabetes level A1c below 6.5 with diet and exercise, as well as maintaining careful regulation over blood pressure and lipid levels.
More than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half know it. The disease is marked by damage to the eye’s optic nerve. At the beginning, one eye may lose more of its peripheral vision. The other eye will compensate, so with both eyes open you may not notice the vision loss. If Glaucoma is caught early, it can often be treated successfully, preventing life-changing vision loss.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
The biggest risk factor for developing AMD is age. This progressive disease causes damage to the macula, the part of your eye responsible for fine central vision. The macula is critical for facial recognition, driving, cooking, etc. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people over age 50 and the leading cause of blindness in adults 65 and older. Effective treatment of AMD depends on early detection during the annual eye exam.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), of the estimated 61 million US adults at high risk for vision loss, only half visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months. Regular eye care can have a life-changing impact on preserving the vision of millions of people.
If you have any of the following eye problems, don’t wait for your next appointment—visit your eye doctor as soon as possible:
- Decreased vision
- Draining or redness of the eye
- Eye pain
- Double vision
- Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
- Circles (halos) around lights
- Flashes of light
Yes, aging is unavoidable. But, evidence is growing that shows the association between some risk factors (i.e., smoking, ultraviolet light exposure, avoidable trauma, etc.) and the eye diseases that most affect older Americans. Additional life-style habits that might lend themselves to improved overall eye health include a diet rich in antioxidants and maintenance of normal levels of blood sugar, lipids, total cholesterol, body weight, and blood pressure combined with regular exercise.
If it has been more than a year since your last eye exam, making an appointment with your Optometrist or Ophthalmologist is the first step toward maintaining your vision.