Eye problems are a natural part of aging, but with regular eye exams from an eyecare professional—and early detection of conditions—most common eye issues can be managed or even cured. Here are a few of the most common:
Tricky to diagnose initially because early symptoms are subtle, if noticed at all, glaucoma is caused by high pressure in the eye itself. That pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve over time, and those who suffer from the disease typically see peripheral vision decrease and even the possibility of blindness. While glaucoma can’t be cured, the disease can be treated if caught early. Prescription eye drops, laser procedures and traditional surgery are all options to slow the disease and preserve vision, but it’s important to note, one can’t regain sight that’s already been lost.
While glaucoma starts chipping away at vision from the edges, macular degeneration affects vision starting right in the center. Age-related macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in the U.S. and is caused by damage to the light-sensing cells at the center of the retina in the back of the eye. Treatments in various stages include vitamins, injections, and laser surgery, but the key to any successful treatment is early detection. New research shows that stem cells could be effective in treating macular degeneration. People over the age of 50 are most at risk, and smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol have been shown to increase a person’s likelihood of developing the disease.
Some 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, which puts a large number of people at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, a disease that damages the blood vessels in the retina. The top cause of blindness in American adults, the damaged or abnormal growth of blood vessels can leak blood or fluid into the eye, causing blurred vision. A technique called a scatter laser procedure can help treat vision loss by creating thousands of tiny laser burns on the retina that cause the abnormal vessels to shrink. While it may impact night vision or some peripheral vision, the procedure has been found effective in maintaining or restoring primary central sight.
Most commonly found in older people, cataracts are a clouding of the lens on the front of the eye that blurs and fades vision. Incredibly, by age 80, more than half of Americans will have cataracts or have had surgery to correct them. The lens is made of water and protein, and as we get older, that protein can cause a clouding effect — first in spots but then spreading to a larger area. Surgery to fix cataracts involves removing the clouded lens from the eye and inserting a clear artificial one. Because they’re so common among older people, a full dilated eye exam every year after age 60 is recommended.