When it comes to annual medical checkups, eyes are often overlooked. Vision should never be taken for granted.
Years of exposure to the elements, poor eating habits, illness and heredity all exact a toll on the eyes. The longer people live – 77 years is now average – the more likely they will develop cataracts, age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) or glaucoma (see below).
Poor eye health is personally devastating, but it also has serious social impacts. According to the Vision Council of America (VCA), vision problems cost businesses an estimated $8 billion a year in lost productivity.
Because early detection is essential in treating all of these sight-robbing ailments, eye examinations should be part of routine health care. Sunglasses and diet can help manage or avoid these conditions. Eye disease is sometimes unpreventable, but blindness does not have to be the inevitable result.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens. If things seem blurry, if sunlight and lamplight are annoyingly bright, if approaching headlights cause glare, cataracts may be the reason. An eye exam conducted by an ophthalmologist will determine if cataracts have developed.
Cataracts can occur at any age, but by 65, half of all adults have at least one. Blindness can result, but vision restoration can often be achieved through a surgical procedure in which the clouded lens is replaced with a clear plastic intraocular lens (IOL).
Diabetes, cigarette smoke, air pollution and alcohol consumption increase the likelihood of cataracts, but multiple studies point to the sun’s ultraviolet light as the principle culprit. To preserve eye health, the American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends wearing sunglasses with ultraviolet protection and a wide-brimmed hat or cap.
Macular degeneration reduces the ability to read, recognize faces and colors and see objects in fine detail due to deterioration of the macula, the central portion of the retina. People with macular degeneration have peripheral vision, but blind spots prevent them from seeing what is directly in front of them.
People of all ages can develop this condition, but age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in the 60-plus age bracket. Family history is sometimes an indicator for ARMD, and lifestyle can also be a factor. Smoking, obesity and hypertension increase the likelihood of ARMD.
ARMD’s onset can be gradual or sudden. Regardless, the condition cannot be reversed. However, laser treatments and medications sometimes lessen the impact. Regular eye exams are important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that adults with no signs or risk factors get a baseline screening at age 40. The ophthalmologist will use the results to determine a schedule for follow-up exams.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve by causing a buildup of intraocular pressure (IOP). Glaucoma is subtle. It starts with a gradual decrease in peripheral vision – with or without pain – that, untreated, can lead to vision loss. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness.
Beginning at age 40, the likelihood of developing glaucoma rises. Everyone is a candidate, but risk is greatest among people of African descent, diabetics or those with a close family history of the disease. Eye injuries, eye surgeries and eye tumors can also lead to glaucoma as can certain medications used in the treatment of other illnesses.
Glaucoma testing is part of a routine eye exam. While there is no cure, glaucoma can be controlled through medication.