Do You Pay Attention to Your Eyes? Warning Signs for Common Diseases
With age comes wisdom—and too often, vision problems. By age 80, half of Americans will develop cataracts and 8 percent will get glaucoma, reports the National Eye Institute. Also, 14 percent of white people (and 2 percent of nonwhites) will have age-related macular degeneration.
Here’s what you need to know about each of these leading causes of blindness:
The most successful treatment is surgery, says Shaun Jayakar, M.D., a HAP-affiliated geriatric medicine specialist at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit. “For patients, it’s a new life.”
Cause: Clumps of protein that collect on the eye lens.
Symptoms: Foggy eyesight and, often, a halo around lights. Interestingly, Jayakar notes, these changes sometimes allow people to start reading without glasses.
Risk factors: Age, steroid use, too much sunlight, smoking, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and other sources and a history of diabetes. Women are slightly more at risk than men.
Treatment: If vision loss cannot be fixed with new corrective lenses, then surgery is the treatment.
Prevention: Yearly tests of visual strength; protective sunglasses, hats, or visors in sun or snow; a diet high in antioxidants, with vitamins A, C and E, plus lutein and zeaxanthin, all found in leafy green veggies, berries and fish.
Glaucoma affects people of all ages and may not show symptoms in early stages. In many cases, it’s found only after the patient has lost some eyesight. By then, up to half of the person’s visual field can be lost, Jayakar says. But proper health care can prevent further harm and even blindness.
Cause: Pressure inside the eye that harms the optic nerve.
Symptoms: People usually don't have symptoms, but they can get headaches.
Risk factors: Age, family history, near-sightedness, diabetes, high blood pressure, use of steroids and antihistamines. African-Americans are at increased risk.
Treatment: Eye drops and, in some cases, laser therapy.
Prevention: Annual eye exams beginning at age 40 for those with a family history, and every six to 12 months for everyone over 65.
Age-related macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in those over 60, Jayakar says. It has two forms: dry and wet. Dry is less severe but can transform into wet, which leads to total vision loss.
Cause: Deterioration of the tissue responsible for central vision.
Symptoms: Blurred vision or a blind spot in the center of vision. Colors can seem dull. Some patients find they need more light to do work up close, such as reading.
Risk factors: Exposure to sunlight or other sources of UV radiation; cigarette smoking; a poor diet and use of antacids. Women are at higher risk than men.
Treatment: Medications to prevent macular degeneration from moving from dry to wet, and drops to help slow the wet form. Nutrients, specifically vitamins and minerals identified in the Age-Related Eye Disease Study, or AREDS, reduce the risk of advanced macular degeneration.
Look for supplements labeled AREDS or AREDS2. If you prefer a more “natural” approach, Dr. Jayakar recommends a low-fat diet with an emphasis on colorful vegetables such as carrots and dark, leafy greens as a natural source of these nutrients.
Prevention: An annual vision examination of the back of your eye, looking for a mottled appearance. Sunglasses, hats and visors to prevent the disease from starting or worsening.
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