The number of Americans with non-refractive visual impairment (vision loss not correctable by glasses) is increasing, according to recent research in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This trend will likely continue as a large population of baby-boomers enter into their senior years, and the prevalence of diabetes continues to grow at an alarming rate. The most common causes of non-refractive visual impairment are age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma.
Here are some eye-opening stats about these conditions:
• Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): Occurs when the macula, the part of the eye responsible for central vision, gradually degrades, causing blurred or distorted vision. AMD is the leading cause of vision impairment in people over 50. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) about 1.75 million Americans currently have been diagnosed with advanced AMD with associated vision loss, with that number expected to grow to almost 3 million by 2020.
• Diabetic retinopathy: Caused by complications from diabetes that damage blood vessels in the back of the eye, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults in the United States. According to NEI, 7.7 million Americans are affected by diabetic retinopathy, and that number is expected to climb to 11 million by 2030.
• Cataracts: Refers to clouding of the lens in the eye, which blocks out light and diminishes vision. While cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective health-care treatments , cataracts represent almost half of all causes of blindness, accounting for almost 18 million cases worldwide and five percent of all blindness in the U.S.
• Glaucoma: Occurs when pressure builds up in the eye, causing optic nerve damage and vision loss. It is often called “the sneak thief of sight” because it can strike without any symptoms. Given the aging population, the World Health Organization projects that almost 80 million people globally will have glaucoma by 2020.
- STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO REDUCE RISKS TO YOUR EYE HEALTH -
The first step to preserving your eye health is to have a comprehensive eye exam. You may think your eyes are perfectly healthy, but the fact is that many common conditions, such as AMD, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, often have no warning signs—the only way to be sure you don’t have them is by having your eyes examined by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. The American Optometric Association recommends an eye exam every two years for adults ages 18 to 60 and annual exams for seniors age 61 and older. If you wear glasses, have a family history of eye disease or have a chronic disease that puts you at greater risk of eye disease, such as diabetes, you should have your eyes examined more frequently.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition and exercise, can go a long way in preventing or delaying many eye conditions. While too much saturated fat and sugar can increase your risk of eye disease, eating foods rich in vitamin C, beta carotene, lutein and zinc may actually reduce your risk of some conditions, like AMD or cataracts. Aerobic exercise helps to improve blood flow and oxygen intake, which are vital for healthy eyes.
Other recommendations for maintaining good eye health include:
- Wear protective eyewear. When playing sports or doing work around the house, make sure to wear the appropriate gear, such as safety glasses or eye guards to protect your eyes. Also make sure to don a pair of sun glasses or a wide-brimmed hat when traveling outdoors for protection from harmful UV rays.
- Quit smoking or never start. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body, increasing your risk for developing cataract and AMD. It also reduces blood flow to the eyes and may increase the amount of toxic substances, such as tar and nicotine.
- Give your eyes a rest. If you spend long hours in front of the computer, you may be causing fatigue or strain in your eyes without even knowing it. Try the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.
- Get good sleep. During sleep, the eyes clear out irritants such as dust and allergens that accumulate during the day.
Dr. Raja Narayanan,
Consultant with the Smt. Kanuri Santhamma Centre for Vitreo Retinal Diseases,
L. V. Prasad Eye Institute