March is National Save Your Vision month — a good time to consider some of the more common eye diseases that could affect one’s vision.
It is said that by age 75, a majority of us will develop problems with our eyes that could lead to serious vision loss. At that age, more than one half of people will have cataracts, and around 20 percent will have either macular degeneration or glaucoma.
These diseases are all related to the aging process, which of course we cannot change. But there are some things we can do to reduce the risk.
Cataracts are a condition caused by the clouding of the normally crystal-clear lens of the eye. This results in hazy vision, increased visual glare, seeing halos around lights, and poor night vision.
A cataract can develop in one or both eyes.
Some risk factors are increasing age, excessive exposure to sunlight, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.
As cataracts worsen, surgery often becomes necessary. This involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with a plastic lens implant. This is routine surgery with minimal risk and great benefit.
Macular degeneration occurs with failure of the macula, the center of our retina that is responsible for clear vision.
There are two types of degeneration. Dry macular degeneration is the most common and is caused by a thinning and breakdown of the macular tissue. Wet macular degeneration can progress from the
dry variety and is due to leaky blood vessels around the macula and is often more serious. Both types can cause serious central blurring and even a central blind spot.
Treatment for dry macular degeneration involves taking antioxidant vitamins, and for the wet variety there are new drugs that prevent leaky blood vessels.
Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure that builds up inside the eyeball. It results in damage to the optic nerve, which interferes with the transmission of images to the brain, resulting in severe loss of vision.
Treatment begins with eye drops, which usually need to be used or the rest of one’s life.
Several different surgical procedures are also available for some types of glaucoma.
There are things you can do to help save your vision, including:
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors during daylight
- Quit smoking
- Moderate alcohol consumption
- Control chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension
- Exercise regularly and eat a diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
See your doctor immediately if you have any obvious visual change.
People between the ages of 18 and 50 should have routine eye exams every two years, and every year after the age of 50.
Children need routine eye exams as well. Ask your child’s doctor about the frequency.
- Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. Readers can view his previous columns on his website, valleydoctor.wordpress.com, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your own health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.