The Message Is Staring You in the Face
By Richard P. Holm, MD
In a recent national survey, 26.9 million American adults age 18 and older reported experiencing vision loss. Of course, vision loss means blindness or the inability to see at all, but the definition also includes those having trouble seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses. While not everything is preventable or reversible, early detection and intervention are among our most effective tools to prevent vision loss.
Mrs. E who lived well into her 90s, would come into my office, never complaining about her eyesight. However, the diagnosis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) was obvious to me because, when she and I had a face to face conversation, she would look a foot to the left of my nose. The AMD had destroyed her central vision and she used her peripheral vision to see. AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly. Risk factors include a family history of AMD, aging, smoking, obesity and hypertension. We can reduce our risk if we stop smoking, eat less, exercise and visit our eye doctor on a regular basis.
Almost the opposite of AMD is glaucoma, where 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 pressure of the fluid within the eyeball. When glaucoma progresses, even the central vision can be lost but, if diagnosed early, treatment can help.
Diabetic retinopathy and cataracts are more common than AMD or glaucoma. 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 progressive spotty vision loss. Cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the world, cause the clouding of the lens of the eye.
For most of these eye conditions, there are methods to diagnose, treat and prevent the blinding consequences, yet many people skip regular eye exams. The message is staring you in the face, or perhaps a foot to the left of your nose…get your eyes checked every year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most non-urgent eye appointments are being deferred to the latter half of the year. Contact your eye doctor to discuss the best option for you.
Richard P. Holm, MD passed away in March 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. Dr. Holm’s legacy lives on through his Prairie Doc® organization. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook, featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.