Don’t Take Your Eyes for Granted!

It’s important to have your eyes examined regularly to ensure good eye health. 

Don't put off regular eye exams because your eyes feel fine, or if you don't wear glasses or contact lenses. Signs of some eye diseases, such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), can be present before you might notice any symptoms. In addition to eye diseases, vision and required refractive corrective prescriptions change regularly. The National Eye Institute states that more than 2.9 million Americans ages 60 and older have low vision, and it’s projected that this number will increase by 72% by the year 2030. According to the CDC, more than 4.2 million Americans aged 40 years and older are either legally blind (having best-corrected visual acuity of 6/60 or worse [=20/200] in the better-seeing eye) or are with low vision (having best-corrected visual acuity less than 6/12 [<20/40] in the better-seeing eye, excluding those who were categorized as being blind). 

What are the most common eye disorders and diseases? 

Refractive Errors are the most frequent eye problems in the United States. Refractive errors include myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances), and presbyopia that occurs between age 40–50 years (loss of the ability to focus up close, inability to read letters in a book or on a phone screen, for example) can be corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses, or, in some cases, surgery. The National Eye Institute states that proper refractive correction could improve vision among 150 million Americans.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is an eye disorder associated with aging and results in damaging sharp and central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving. AMD affects the macula, the central part of the retina that allows the eye to see fine details. There are two forms of AMD—wet and dry. Wet AMD is when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula, leading to blood and fluid leakage. An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. Dry AMD is when the macula thins overtime as part of the aging process, gradually blurring central vision. The dry form is more common and accounts for 70–90% of cases of AMD, and it progresses more slowly than the wet form. One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen—tiny yellow or white deposits under the retina. They often are found in people aged 60 years and older. The CDC estimates that 1.8 million Americans aged 40 years and older are affected by AMD and an additional 7.3 million with large drusen are at substantial risk of developing AMD, the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people aged 65 years and older.

Cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens and is both the leading cause of blindness worldwide and the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Cataracts can occur at any age because of a variety of causes and can be present at birth. The treatment for the removal of cataract is widely available; however, access barriers such as insurance coverage, treatment costs, patient choice, or lack of awareness may prevent proper treatment. According to the CDC, an estimated 20.5 million Americans aged 40 years and older have cataracts in one or both eyes, and 6.1 million have had their lens removed surgically. 

Diabetic Retinopathy (DR) is a common complication of diabetes. It is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. DR typically results in progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that is necessary for good vision, and usually affects both eyes. Risks can be reduced with good control of blood sugar, blood pressure, and lipid abnormalities. Early diagnosis of DR and timely treatment reduce the risk of vision loss; however, approximately 50% of patients are not getting their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective. The CDC states that DR is the leading cause of blindness among U.S. adults aged 20–74 years. 

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, and some recent findings now show that glaucoma can also occur with normal eye pressure. With early treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss. Approximately three million Americans have glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. 

Amblyopia is also referred to as “lazy eye” and is the most common cause of vision impairment in children. Amblyopia is the medical term used when the vision in one of the eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. The eye itself looks normal, but it is not being used normally because the brain is favoring the other eye. Conditions leading to amblyopia include strabismus, an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes; being more nearsighted, farsighted, or astigmatic in one eye than the other eye; and, rarely, other eye conditions such as cataract. Without successful treatment in early childhood, amblyopia usually persists into adulthood.

Strabismus is an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes. Strabismus can cause the eyes to cross in (esotropia) or turn out (exotropia). Strabismus is caused by a lack of coordination between the eyes and, as a result, the eyes look in different directions and do not focus simultaneously on a single point. In most cases of strabismus in children, the cause is unknown. In more than half of these cases, the problem is present at or shortly after birth (congenital strabismus). When the two eyes fail to focus on the same image, there is reduced or absent depth perception, and the brain may learn to ignore the input from one eye, causing permanent vision loss in that eye (one type of amblyopia).

8 tips to help keep your eyes healthy:

  1. Get regular comprehensive dilated eye exams. With the ability to order contacts and inexpensive glasses online, it’s become increasingly easier to push eye exams aside. Keep in mind that, in many cases, eye health isn’t visible, and you may have experienced damage to your eye (such as a corneal ulcer) without realizing it. 
  2. Know your family’s eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease or condition, since some may be hereditary.
  3. Eat right to protect your sight. Vitamins and nutrients that are good for your eyes include:
    • Carotenoids – yams, cantaloupe, tomatoes, carrots, mangoes, squash, pumpkin
    • Vitamin C – broccoli, kale, citrus fruits, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, berries
    • Vitamin A – beef liver, chicken liver, seafood, cod liver oil, egg yolk
    • Vitamin E – sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, olive oil, other nuts
    • Lutein and Zeaxanthin – egg yolk, swiss chard, spinach, kale, pistachios, parsley, green peas, red grapes
    • Omega 3 fatty acids – fish, oysters, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans
  4. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home, such as painting, yard work, and home repairs.
  5. Quit smoking—or, even better, never start. 
  6. Wear sunglasses that block 99–100% of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
  7. Wash your hands before taking out your contacts, and cleanse your contact lenses properly to avoid infection. Tap water is not good for your eyes. It contains bacteria that can contribute to disease and create some major problems. The saline level of tap water is also different from your tears’ saline level.  
  8. Use the 20-20-20 rule for screen time. Screens are stressful for your eyes. After 20 minutes of screen time, the National Eye Institute recommends taking a break to look ahead 20 feet for at least 20 seconds.
If you haven’t had an exam for some time, schedule one this month! Be sure to let your eye care professional know if you are experiencing any of the following:  
  • Decreased vision
  • Eye pain
  • Drainage or redness of the eye
  • Double vision
  • New diagnosis of diabetes
  • Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes)
  • Circles (halos) around light sources
  • Seeing flashes of light

If you need help finding low-cost/no-cost resources for eye care, the National Eye Institute can help direct you. Click here for more information.  

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