All may seem fine with your eyes, until it’s not. Many conditions that affect the eyes have acute warning signs that easily go unnoticed and undiagnosed, worsening over time until the damage becomes significant. More than 4.2 million Americans, aged 40 and over, are legally blind or suffer from significant vision loss. As we age, our eyes become more and more susceptible to diseases and disorders such as age-related macular degeneration, amblyopia or “lazy-eye”, cataracts, glaucoma, and more.
It is estimated that at least 50% of all visual impairments can be prevented or treated before escalating to blindness. Unfortunately, undiagnosed conditions and unnoticed symptoms make it even more difficult to treat these diseases and disorders.
How do our eyes work?
Our eyes are made up of many parts, which all work together to help us see clearly. Light enters the cornea, the clear dome-shaped outer layer, and bends along this curve to assist with focus. The iris, the colored part of the eye, controls how much light is let into the pupil. Once that light passes through the pupil, the lens allows more clarity in conjunction with the lens. The retina, a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye, convert the light into electrical signals which get sent to the brain through the optic nerve. All these parts help to create clear images of our surroundings and when one is affected, the entire system can be upended.
What kind of eye disorders are common?
Certain eye disorders like refractive errors are common, caused by an irregular lens that prevents light from entering the retina, and result in nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. These refractive errors range from mild to severe and can usually be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, but some severe cases may require surgical intervention.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is when eye tissue at the macula, a part of the retina, breaks down and begins to affect what is known as “central vision” that allows us to see fine details. There are two kinds of AMD, known as “wet” and “dry”. Wet AMD is caused by fluid leakage behind the eye, near the retina, causing scarring and vision loss. Dry AMD is caused by thinning tissue at the macula, leading to gradual vision loss.
Cataracts occur when the lens of the eye becomes clouded. When proteins in the lens degrade, they create an opaque coating over the lens. Cataracts are common, but more advanced disease requires surgical replacement of the lens.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is a complication that arises in diabetic patients. High blood sugar damages blood vessels that supply the retina, destroying the link that sends visual signals to the brain via the optic nerve. Controlling diabetes is essential to maintaining your eye health, as DR is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.
Glaucoma is an umbrella term for several diseases that affect the optic nerve. Most often, glaucoma is caused by fluid and pressure build-up within the eye, damaging delicate eye tissues and causing blindness or vision loss. There are two types, open angle glaucoma and closed angle glaucoma. Open angle glaucoma slowly degrades vision while closed angle glaucoma causes rapid vision loss and is generally painful. Most patients with closed angle glaucoma seek medical attention, while open angle glaucoma patients may not realize their condition until it is too late.
How do I protect my eye health?
We highly recommend that everyone, especially people over the age of 40, receive an annual eye exam. Even if you don’t think you need one, minor changes to vision can occur over time and may go unnoticed until the condition becomes severe.
Living a healthy lifestyle is essential to total body wellness, and can help to protect your eyes from disease. Eating healthy foods like leafy greens and fish, staying active, and quitting smoking can all help to prevent eye disease.
When outdoors, use UV-protectant eyewear with a UV rating of 99-100%. If you wear contacts, use best practices when inserting and removing contact lenses and always follow directives from the manufacturer.
If you spend long hours at a computer, don’t forget to give your eyes a rest. Blue wavelength light from electronic screens can disrupt eye function and put unnecessary strain on your retinas. If you must use these devices, be sure to take breaks several times throughout the day.
At Roger’s Family Pharmacy, we know that prevention is key to maintaining overall health and wellness. We strongly recommend you talk with your primary care physician about scheduling annual eye exams. If you think you may be at risk for vision loss, talk with your doctor about getting a qualified referral for an eye doctor if you’re unsure of where to start. Visit the National Eye Institute website at www.nei.nih.gov, or you may also consult your local pharmacist at Roger’s Family Pharmacy at (601) 582-8351 for additional information.