Growing older isn’t always a bad thing – it usually means you’ve had wonderful life experiences like the birth of a child or grandchild. Probably the best thing about getting older is retirement and having more time to travel and enjoy your favorite hobbies. Athens has a growing retiree community because it’s such a desirable location. We have warm weather, a thriving culture and arts scene, a “small town” feel, and close proximity to major cities like Atlanta, Chattanooga and Charleston. So that we can enjoy all the things we love, it’s important to keep a close eye on vision and eye health. Dr. Kinard and the staff at Athens Eye Care are committed to helping older adults achieve maximum vision health with routine eye exams and preventive care. There are five common age-related eye diseases: glaucoma, macular degeneration, presbyopia, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. In this article, we’re going to discuss these eye diseases and steps to prevent them!
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness. These diseases cause damage to the optic nerve when the fluid pressure in the eyes slowly rises above normal. There are two major categories of glaucoma: open angle and closed angle. Open angle glaucoma is a chronic condition that progresses slowly over a long period of time and shows no symptoms until the disease is very advanced. On the other hand, closed angle glaucoma can appear very suddenly and can cause vision loss to progress rapidly and painfully. If identified quickly, permanent damage can be prevented. The best way to diagnose glaucoma before permanent vision loss occurs is to keep up with routine eye exams.
Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in patients over the age of fifty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that 1.8 million Americans over the age of forty are impacted by macular degeneration and an estimated 7.3 million are considered to be at substantial risk of developing macular degeneration. By 2020, the CDC estimates that nearly 3 billion people will suffer from macular degeneration.
This eye disease impacts the macula, which is the center of the light sensitive retina in the back of the eye. It damages central vision and can lead to loss of central vision completely. While there are some symptoms associated with the early onset of macular degeneration, such as gradual central vision loss, distorted vision or loss of color vision, this eye disease typically goes unnoticed and undiagnosed until you receive a comprehensive eye exam.
“Dry” macular degeneration is the most common form of the disease. In this case, the macular tissue thins with age and stops properly functioning. If diagnosed at this stage, the vision cannot be restored. “Wet” macular degeneration is far rarer but can be treated. In this form, fluids leaked from abnormally formed blood vessels under the macula cause blurred vision. To treat this form, the blood vessels may be sealed or treated with injections. Ultimately, the best prevention for macular degeneration is to make regular eye exams part of your health routine.
Presbyopia is the most common eye disease causing vision loss in older adults. This disease progresses with age and causes the eye to lose its ability to focus on near objects. It is not certain what causes presbyopia to evolve with age, but it is presumed that it’s correlated to the loss of elasticity or changes in the curvature in a portion of the lens. There are many common symptoms associated with presbyopia, such as eye strain, difficulty seeing in dim light, or problems focusing on small objects or fine print. This disease impacts most Americans over the age of forty or fifty and is not too threatening. The most common solution is reading glasses, however there are exercises that may help to strengthen the eye, and surgery may be an option to those who don’t want to wear glasses or contacts.
If you are diabetic, you may already know about diabetic retinopathy. The eye disease is caused by progressive damage to blood vessels in the retina, which are the light sensitive tissues at the back of the eye. It causes vision issues such as seeing spots, blurred vision, impaired central vision or difficulty seeing at night. Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. It may also be diagnosed during a comprehensive eye exam, and it can be treated.
Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR) is the earliest stage of the disease. At this point, no preventative measures can be taken other than tracking the progression of the disease with more frequent eye exams. If the condition progresses to the more advanced stages known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR), laser treatment may be required. Effectively managing diabetes by controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and lipid abnormalities can help to reduce the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.
Cataracts are another type of eye disease commonly associated with older adults due to changes in the lenses of the eye. Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States, and it is estimated that 20.5 million Americans (17.2%) over the age of forty have cataracts in one or both eyes, according to the CDC. By 2020, it’s predicted that 30.1 million people will be diagnosed with cataracts.
A cataract causes cloudy areas in the lenses of the eyes that impair vision. Cataracts may be caused by a number of factors including but not limited to certain medications, injury, glaucoma, UV radiation, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and poor nutrition. A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to diagnose cataracts, the severity of the disease and treatment. Treatment for cataracts may be as simple as a change in prescription eyeglasses or it may require surgery.
To prevent age-related eye diseases like these, you must commit to scheduling routine eye exams. As you grow older, you want to ensure that you are able to see all those special milestones in your loved ones’ lives, and maintaining healthy vision is the key to do so! Dr. Kinard is dedicated to helping you achieve optimum vision health so that you don’t miss a single moment in the prime of your life. Contact us to schedule your routine eye exam today!