Regular Eye Appointments Help With Early Detection of The Big Four
Count yourself lucky if you have lived most of your life without corrective lenses for your vision or any eye-related issues. It's estimated that approximately 75% of people need corrective lenses. Those who wear corrective lenses are probably used to visiting their eye care professional regularly. However, even if you have 20/20 vision you should still consider regular eye exams. Especially as we age, early detection of age-related eye diseases – and other chronic diseases – can quite literally make a night and day difference.
A 2016 study at Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found that loss of eyesight was the greatest fear of most Americans. Becoming blind ranked above losing a limb, memory, hearing, speech or even contracting HIV. More surprising, the study also revealed that most of those who participated in the study were unaware of the most common diseases that can put their vision at risk. There was also a lack of knowledge about what can be done to lower the risk of eye disease or treat it upon detection.
The big four – glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration – account for the largest percentage of vision loss as we age. Let’s examine the cause of each.
Glaucoma is a common eye condition caused by fluid buildup that puts pressure on the optic nerve. Sometimes called “the silent thief of sight,” glaucoma can happen gradually and cause damage before a person knows they have it. Glaucoma is not curable, but it can be treated with prescriptions or in some cases surgery.
Cataracts are caused by a breakdown of proteins in our eye lens. While fairly common, sometimes individuals may mistake this change in vision for natural vision loss from aging or needing a stronger prescription for their glasses or contacts. Some medications or chronic diseases like diabetes may make you more susceptible to cataracts. Surgery for cataracts is highly successful in most cases and can be done on a same-day basis. During the surgery, the cloudy, blurred lens of your eye is replaced with a clear artificial lens.
Diabetes affects 34.2 million or 10.5% of Americans. For those over 65, the number grows to approximately 26.8% of Americans who are diagnosed or undiagnosed. One of the risks of this chronic disease is diabetic retinopathy, which can occur when blood vessels in the retina are damaged due to excess glucose. Keeping diabetes under control is essential in avoiding partial or complete blindness due to diabetic retinopathy.
Age-related macular degeneration
Macular degeneration is caused by loss of retinal cells that destroys central vision, which is needed for the identification of faces or objects in front of a person, reading or driving. It is the leading cause of vision loss for those 60+. While there is no cure for macular degeneration, there are treatments for this disease that slow the growth of abnormal blood vessels including laser surgery, injectable drugs, and photodynamic therapy.
What can you do to avoid age-related eye disease?
There are some common denominators to the big four. The most important action you can take is scheduling regular appointments with your eye care provider. Heredity can play a role in some of these diseases, but there are also controllable environmental factors that can be helpful. Early detection is important if there’s any treatment that can be helpful with these conditions.
- Schedule and attend regular appointments with your eye care provider. Even if you don’t wear corrective lenses or have any vision issues, see an optometrist or ophthalmologist regularly.
- Protect your eyes from sun damage with ultraviolet-blocking sunglasses or contacts.
- Do not smoke or if you do smoke, try to quit.
- Eat a diet with plenty of plant-based whole foods and see your physician for regular physicals.
- Talk to your physician and eye care provider about any concerns and let them know if you have any eye disease in your family.
Even if you’ve had perfect vision most of your life, scheduling regular appointments with your eye care provider is the best way to detect eye disease before it’s too late. The big four – glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration – contribute to the bulk of adult blindness and declining vision. By detecting these diseases early on in their onset, you may have a better chance to explore treatment, maintain or keep some of your vision and experience a better quality of life as you age.
For more information on age-related eye disease and other vision health topics, follow our blog, A Healthy Life.