When we are young, we take our vision for granted. But as we age, vision problems become increasingly common. Activities like reading, shopping, cooking, writing, and watching TV may be hard to do. For most people, it's just a fact of life that visual acuity deteriorates little by little with each passing year and corrective eyeglasses or contact lenses are the answer. But sometimes the onset of age-related vision problems can be attributed to disease, some which can lead to a permanent loss of vision. In fact, the leading causes of low vision and blindness in the United States are age-related eye diseases: Macular Degeneration, Cataracts and Glaucoma.
Macular Degeneration, or Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 and older. It is a disease that destroys your sharp, central vision. You need central vision to see objects clearly and to do tasks such as reading and driving.
AMD affects the macula -- the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. It does not hurt, but it causes cells in the macula to die. There are two types: wet and dry. Wet AMD happens when abnormal blood vessels grow under the macula. These new blood vessels often leak blood and fluid. Wet AMD damages the macula quickly. Blurred vision is a common early symptom. Dry AMD happens when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down. You gradually lose your central vision. A common early symptom is that straight lines appear crooked. Treatment can slow vision loss. It does not restore vision.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye. It affects your vision. Cataracts are very common in older people. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
A cataract can occur in either or both eyes. It cannot spread from one eye to the other. Common symptoms are:
- Blurry vision
- Colors that seem faded
- Glare - headlights, lamps or sunlight may seem too bright. You may also see a halo around lights.
- Not being able to see well at night
- Double vision
- Frequent prescription changes in your eye wear
Cataracts usually develop slowly. New glasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses or magnifying lenses can help at first. Surgery is also an option. It involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens. Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataracts.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve. It is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. It usually happens when the fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, damaging the optic nerve. Often there are no symptoms at first. Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral, or side vision. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead vision may decrease until no vision remains.
A comprehensive eye exam can tell if you have glaucoma. People at risk should get eye exams at least every two years. They include:
- African Americans over age 40
- People over age 60, especially Mexican Americans
- People with a family history of glaucoma
There is no cure, but glaucoma can usually be controlled. Early treatment can help protect your eyes against vision loss. Glaucoma treatments usually include prescription eye drops and/or surgery.
The Importance of Regular Eye Exams
Taking care of your eyes should be a priority just like eating healthy and physical activity. Your best defense against Macular Degneration, Cataracts, Glaucoma or any problem with your vision is to have regular checkups, because eye diseases do not always present with symptoms. Early detection and treatment could prevent vision loss.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam will detect any problems. An eye care professional will use drops to widen the pupils to check for common vision problems and eye diseases. It's the best way to find out if you need glasses or contacts, or are in the early stages of any eye-related diseases.
See an eye care professional right away if you have a sudden change in vision, if everything looks dim, or if you see flashes of light. Other symptoms that need quick attention are pain, double vision, fluid coming from the eye, and inflammation.
Additional Macular Degeneration, Cataracts and Glaucoma Resources:
Related Information from Chester County Hospital