A recent survey of 1,000 adults shows that nearly half 47% worry more about losing their sight than about losing their memory and their ability to walk or hear. But almost 30% indicated that they don't get their eyes checked. Many Americans are unaware of the warning signs of eye diseases and conditions that could cause damage and blindness if not detected and treated soon enough. Let's take a look at some of the most common eye diseases.
Glaucoma Glaucoma (the sneak thief of sight) refers to certain eye diseases that affect the optic nerve and cause vision loss. It typically produces elevated pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure (IOp) and can usually be classified as either open-angle (chronic conditions of long duration) or closed-angle (angle closure), which occur suddenly. The elderly, African-Americans, and people with family histories of the disease are at greatest risk. There are no symptoms in the early stages and by the time the patient notices vision changes, visual loss due to glaucoma can only be halted, not reversed. Glaucoma is usually treated with eye drops, although lasers and surgery can also be used. Most cases can be controlled well with these treatments, thereby preventing further loss of vision. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to preserving sight in people with glaucoma.
Cataracts Cataract is a painless condition where the normally clear aspirin-sized lens of the eye starts to become cloudy. The result is much like smearing grease over the lens of a camera which impairs normal vision. Causes of cataracts include cortisone medication, trauma, diabetes, and aging. In fact, cataracts will affect most people if they live long enough. Diagnosis can be made when a doctor examines the eyes with a viewing instrument. Symptoms of early cataracts may be improved with new eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. If these measures do not help, surgically removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens is the only effective treatment. Removal is only necessary when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or watching TV. You and your eye- care professional can discuss the surgery and once you understand the benefits and risks, you can make an informed decision about whether cataract surgery is right for you. In most cases, delaying cataract surgery will not cause long-term damage to your eye or make the surgery more difficult.
Keratoconus We see through the cornea, which is the clear, central part of the front surface of the eye. Normally, the cornea has a round shape, like a ping-pong ball. Sometimes, however, the structure of the cornea is just not strong enough to hold this round shape. The normal pressure inside the eye makes the cornea bulge outward like a cone, causing distorted vision. This condition is called keratoconus. Often the cause of keratoconus is unknown. The disease usually does not cause blindness. However, the changes to the cornea will make it impossible for the eye to focus well even with glasses or soft contact lenses.Rigid contact lenses or corneal transplantation may be necessary to provide good vision.
Diabetic retinopathy Diabetic retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes, affects the blood vessels in the retina (the thin light-sensitive membrane that covers the back of the eye). It is due to the retina not receiving enough oxygen. If untreated, it may lead to blindness. If diagnosed and treated promptly, blindness is usually preventable. There are two types: nonproliferative and proliferative retinopathy. Nonproliferative retinopathy is the less severe type in which there may be hemorrhages (bleeding) in the retina and leakage of blood or serum causing a "wet retina." As a consequence vision may be diminished. proliferative retinopathy is a more severe type of diabetic retinopathy. New abnormal fragile vessels develop on the surface of the retina and may grow toward the center of the eye. These vessels frequently bleed into the vitreous (the clear jelly in the center of the eye). Such bleeding episodes cause severe visual problems. Treatment is by laser surgery or surgery on the vitreous. These techniques can slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy and sometimes will reverse visual loss. However, damage done may be permanent. Diabetic retinopathy can often be prevented by lifestyle modification, including weight loss, dietary changes, and exercise. In addition, better control of high blood sugar decreases the incidence and the progression of diabetic retinopathy.
Retinal Detachment A retinal detachment is a separation of the retina from its attachments to its underlying tissue within the eye. Most retinal detachments are a result of a retinal break, hole, or tear. Once the retina has torn, liquid from the vitreous gel (clear gel that fills most of the inside of the eye) passes through the tear and accumulates behind the retina. The build-up of fluid behind the retina is what separates (detaches) the retina from the back of the eye. Flashing lights and floaters may be the initial symptoms of a retinal detachment or of a retinal tear that precedes the detachment itself. Retinal detachments can occur at any age but occur most commonly in younger adults (age 25 to 50) who are highly nearsighted and in older people following cataract surgery. Surgical repair of a retinal detachment is usually successful in reattaching the retina, although more than one procedure may be necessary. Once the retina is reattached, vision usually improves and then stabilizes.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease with its onset usually after age 60 that progressively destroys the macula, the central portion of the retina, impairing central vision. It rarely causes blindness because only the center of vision is affected. There are two types of AMD -- wet and dry -- neither of which causes pain. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula and leak blood and fluid causing loss of central vision which may occur quickly. Treatment includes laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, and injections into the eye. None of these will cure the disease and loss of vision may still progress. In dry AMD, the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down causing central vision to diminish over time. Early stages of dry AMD can be treated with high-dose formulations of antioxidants and zinc which may delay and possibly prevent AMD from progressing to a more advanced stage. Once in the advanced stage, no form of treatment can restore vision loss.