Gregg P. Moody, M.D.
The number of Americans aged 65 and older is projected to double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060. While we all strive for overall wellness, many overlook the maintenance of their eye health until problems arise. As with any disease, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This holds especially true for something as precious as your eyesight. Not all changes in visual quality are the result of disease, but there are three conditions that are of utmost importance to be screened for. These are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years or older. The macula is the part of the retina that forms your central vision. AMD leads to thinning of the tissue along with the accumulation of proteins called drusen. Sufferers of AMD slowly lose their central vision making you unable to see fine details at near or far. The peripheral vision remains normal. The most common type is called dry AMD which leads to slow loss of vision and, unfortunately, has no treatment available. The other type, called wet AMD, leads to a much quicker loss of vision. There are treatment options for the wet type, but many still lose parts of their central vision. Most people don’t realize they have AMD until their vison is very blurry. This is why it is important to have regular visits with an ophthalmologist. Risk factors for AMD are Caucasian race, age over 50, family history of AMD, smoking, and diets high in saturated fats.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in all people over 60, but African Americans are at an even greater risk. Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve usually due to fluid building up in the front part of the eye. Most types of glaucoma are painless and cause no vision changes at first. After more severe optic nerve damage occurs you may begin to lose parts of your peripheral vision. Blindness from glaucoma can be prevented with early treatment so regular eye exams can be sight saving. Common risk factors are age over 40, African or Hispanic heritage, family history of glaucoma, and long-term steroid use.
People with diabetes can have an eye disease called diabetic retinopathy. This is when high blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. These blood vessels can swell, leak, or stop blood from passing through. Like many diseases it often has no symptoms in its early stages. As retinopathy gets worse, you will notice symptoms such as increased number of floaters, blurry vision, fluctuations in vision, or dark spots in part of your vision. Routine eye exams can diagnose retinopathy, and treatments can often protect the eye from the vision-threatening effects of this disease.