Did you know that by age 65, one in three Americans will have some form of vision-impairing eye condition? According to AgingCare.com, there are four major age-related eye diseases (AREDs) that affect seniors: glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Learning about the symptoms of and treatments for each of these conditions can help you protect your vision and that of an aging loved one.
Are you affected by age related eye disease?
Glaucoma is a slow and progressive disease of the eye. It is painless and vision loss is not noticed until the disease is already advanced. You could lose up to 40% of your vision before diagnosis. Glaucoma occurs when the pressure within the eye is elevated, which can damage the optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. Because there are no initial symptoms, as many as one million people may have glaucoma without realizing it. This condition is one of the main causes of blindness in the United States. Everyone should be screened on a regular basis for this disease to ensure it is caught as early as possible and to facilitate treatment.
Whether you develop glaucoma depends on the level of pressure your optic nerve can tolerate without being damaged, says The National Eye Institute. This level is different for each person. That’s why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is very important. It can help your eye care professional determine what level of eye pressure is normal for you.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, which prevents passage of light into the eye. Changes in vision resulting from cataract development can range from very subtle to extreme. Increased glare or trouble with night driving and difficulty reading are the most common presentations. Although most people do not show symptoms of cataracts until at least the age of 40, cataracts can also affect young adults or even children. Heredity, disease, eye injury and smoking could cause cataracts to develop at an earlier age.
There is no proven way to prevent age-related cataracts. However, choosing a healthy lifestyle can slow the progression of cataracts. Some ways to delay the progression of cataracts include avoiding smoking, reducing exposure to UV rays, eating healthy foods, and wearing proper eye protection to avoid eye injury.
Cataracts are typically corrected with surgery. According to the National Eye Institute, cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States. In about 90 percent of cases, people who have cataract surgery have improved vision afterward. Over 3 million Americans undergo cataract surgery annually, making it one of the most common surgeries in the United States. In fact, the entire surgery lasts only about 20 minutes, and most people can resume normal activities fairly rapidly.
Macular Degeneration (MD) diminishes sight by affecting one’s central vision. Although people with MD rarely go completely blind because of it, many find it difficult to read, drive and perform other daily functions. This condition affects the macula, an area at the center of the retina that is responsible for focused, central vision. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, with MD you cannot see fine details, whether you are looking at something close or far. But your peripheral (side) vision will still be normal. For instance, imagine you are looking at a clock with hands. With AMD, you might see the clock’s numbers but not the hands.
You are more likely to develop AMD if you:
- eat a diet high in saturated fat (found in foods like meat, butter, and cheese)
- are overweight
- smoke cigarettes
- are over 50 years old
- have a family history of AMD
- are Caucasian (white)
There is not a cure for MD, but some treatments can delay its progression or help improve vision, including supplements, prescription medications or surgery.
Anyone with diabetes is at risk of Diabetic Retinopathy. In early stages of the disease, there may not be symptoms. If not caught early, it can produce symptoms that affect vision like shadows or dark objects that appear to “float” across your field of vision, blurred or distorted vision, partial or sudden loss of vision and pain in the eye.
Without proper treatment, Diabetic Retinopathy can permanently damage the retina. Left untreated, it may cause severe vision loss and even blindness. Eye surgeons cannot reverse damage that has already occurred, but modern treatment options can slow its progression and prevent further vision loss.
According to AgingCare.com, laser treatment (photocoagulation) is usually very effective at preventing vision loss if it is done before the retina has been severely damaged. Surgical removal of the vitreous gel (vitrectomy) may also help improve vision if the condition is caught early enough.
Are you experiencing one of these age related eye diseases?
If you are experiencing noticeable changes in vision, or are over 50, it could be an age related eye disease. It is crucial to make an appointment for a comprehensive dilated eye exam as soon as possible. Dilation enables your Ophthalmologist to view the inside of the eye allowing him/her to identify and diagnose eye problems that they may otherwise not see.