More than 3.5 million people in the U.S. are legally blind or visually impaired. Approximately 21 million Americans have some eye condition that compromises their vision, and many of these problems could have been prevented.
Mrs. E., who lived well into her 90s, would regularly come into my office years before her death, never complaining about her age-related macular degeneration (AMD). However, the diagnosis was obvious to me because, when she stared at my face, she would do so by looking a foot to the left of my nose. Since the AMD had destroyed her central vision, she used her peripheral vision to see. AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly and we know it occurs in certain families, in races with lighter complexions, and in heavy smokers. Mrs. E. was a heavy smoker.
Glaucoma is another blinding eye condition, but unlike AMD, the peripheral vision is lost, and the central vision is spared. This gradual and painless loss of vision is due to injury of the optic nerve and is commonly the result of increased fluid pressure within the eye ball. However, glaucoma can occur in people with normal pressure, and it might not occur in people with increased pressure. About 2.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another 2 million don’t know they have it. If diagnosed, treatment helps.
Diabetic retinopathy is more common than AMD or glaucoma, with more than 5.5 million Americans affected. Diabetes causes new, tiny, and unfortunately very fragile, blood vessels to develop on the retina, and when these delicate blood vessels bleed, they cause swelling, scarring, and progressively spotty vision loss. If caught early, treatment helps.
Cataracts, which is the clouding of the lens of the eye, affects more than 22 million Americans and is the leading cause of blindness in the world. This condition is noted more commonly in obese or hypertensive people, in certain families, in diabetics, after excessive exposure to the sun and ultraviolet light, following eye surgery, in heavy smokers and drinkers, and following the use of steroids, estrogen therapy, or statin medications. Preventive methods and cataract surgery help.
For most of these eye conditions, there are methods to treat or prevent the blinding consequences, yet many people do not have regular eye exams. The message is staring you in your face, or perhaps a foot to the left of your nose. Get your eyes checked.