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Detecting Eye Diseases and Conditions

As our population ages, vision loss from eye diseases is increasing. 

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI):

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  • About 3.3 million Americans aged 40 or older are blind or have low vision. This is about 1 in every 28 people.
  • By 2020, that number could be 5.5 million -- a 60% increase.

NEI has identified the most common eye diseases in people over age 40 as:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic eye disease
  • Glaucoma

To catch eye conditions early and help prevent vision loss, your doctor may recommend an eye exam every two years or more often after age 60, or if you are at high risk for an eye problem.

Here's what you should know about these threats to your eyesight.

Your Eyes and Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) damages, then destroys, central vision, your "straight-ahead," finely detailed vision. This eye disease takes two forms, dry and wet. About 90% of AMD cases are dry. The remaining 10% are wet, a more advanced form. Wet AMD is more damaging, causing about 90% of serious vision loss.

Who's at Risk for AMD?

Starting with the highest risk, people who:

  • Are over age 60
  • Smoke
  • Have a family history of AMD
  • Are white (Caucasian) and female
  • Have high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Are obese

Symptoms of AMD

AMD is painless. It may worsen slowly or rapidly. Dry AMD may affect central vision within a few years. Wet AMD can cause sudden and dramatic changes in vision. In either case, early detection and treatment are key to slowing vision loss. See your eye doctor right away if you notice:

  • Straight lines appearing wavy, a symptom of wet AMD
  • Blurred central vision, the most common dry AMD symptom
  • Trouble seeing things in the distance
  • Problems seeing colors correctly
  • Difficulty seeing details, like faces or words on a page
  • Dark or "blank" spots blocking your central vision

Treatment of AMD

Wet AMD treatment may include:

  • Special drug injections (by far the most common treatment)
  • Laser surgery
  • Photodynamic therapy

Dry AMD treatment is aimed at monitoring or slowing the progression of the disease. Vision loss from advanced dry AMD cannot be prevented. But taking certain dietary supplements may help stabilize the disease in some patients. One large study has shown that taking high doses of the antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, and zeaxanthin, along with zinc may help slow AMD progression in cases of:

  • Intermediate AMD
  • High risk of progressing to advanced AMD
  • Advanced AMD in just one eye

However, this regimen did not prevent AMD onset or slow its progression in early-stage disease.

Steps to Prevent AMD

These preventive steps may help keep AMD at bay:

  • Eat more leafy green vegetables and fish.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly. Get treatment if your blood pressure is too high.

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