It has been estimated that by age 65, one in three Americans has some form of a potentially vision-affecting eye disease. Most seniors may not be aware of their condition as some do not have any symptoms in the early stages, or they assume that their vision naturally declines with age.
As our seniors live longer and more active lives, maintaining good eye sight is as important today as ever. In addition, our ability as doctors to diagnose and treat commonly occurring eye diseases has improved with new medicines and improved surgical techniques. This article highlights five of the most common conditions affecting seniors and talks briefly about the symptoms and treatment options available to patients.
1) A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye leading to blurry vision and other symptoms. It was recently estimated by the Research to Prevent Blindness that over 5.5 million people in the USA currently have cataracts that are affecting their vision and that within the next 20 years that number will increase to over 30 million. It has also been reported that 40% of seniors over the age of 75 have blurry vision due to cataracts. Patients with cataracts typically complain of cloudy vision, trouble driving at night due to glare from headlights, and faded colors (whites that look yellow and not as bright). Cataracts can occur at any age, and there are many types of cataracts, but the most common types typically present in patients that are in their 60s or 70s. Often, some of the early symptoms of cataracts can be helped with changes in glasses and brighter lighting, but surgery is the only definitive treatment for cataracts. Surgery, which is performed by an ophthalmologist, involves removing the natural lens and replacing it with a man-made lens.
2) Glaucoma is typically defined as high pressure within the eye leading to damage to the eye’s optic nerve and resulting in loss of peripheral or “side” vision first. Glaucoma is estimated to affect over 3 million people in the United States and is the most common cause of blindness among African-Americans. Patients who are at risk for glaucoma are those who have a family member with glaucoma, those who are 60 years old or older, and those with diabetes. Most patients with glaucoma are not aware they have it because glaucoma does not have any noticeable symptoms for the patient. Treatment for glaucoma consists of eye drops to lower intraocular pressure, laser procedure, and possible surgery.
3) Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in seniors today. The macula is the portion of the retina, which is the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye, responsible for clear and sharp central vision and fine details. Patients with ARMD often state their vision is blurry and will sometimes complain that straight lines appear wavy. There are two types of macular degeneration including the more common “dry” form and the “wet” form. Risk factors for ARMD include over age 75, women, Caucasians, smokers, and those with a family history. Treatment of ARMD depends on whether a patient has the dry or wet form. Patients with “dry” ARMD are often treated with vitamins and a healthy diet. Patients with “wet” are generally treated with medicines placed in the eye.
4) Diabetes is an increasingly common condition affecting millions of Americans. Diabetes can affect the eyes in several ways, including cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of preventable blindness, and it is recommended that all patients with diabetes undergo a full-dilated eye exam at least once per year by an eye care specialist.
5) Dry Eye Syndrome is a broad term encompassing several different causes and underlying conditions that results in patients with burning, stinging, redness, tearing, and blurry vision. Dry Eye Syndrome is typically defined as either an inflammatory problem with not enough tears or a problem with poor quality of tears. Dry Eye Syndrome is more common in women and increases in prevalence with age. It can also be a result of allergic eye disease. Doctors’ understanding of Dry Eye Syndrome and treatment options has improved significantly within the last five years. Treatment options include artificial tear solutions as well as specially designed anti-inflammatory medicines.
This article is a brief review of some of the more common causes of eye diseases specifically affecting seniors. It is important to seek a medical opinion if you are having any problems with your eyes or if you are at risk of developing any of the above conditions. Some of the problems mentioned above are treatable or even preventable with regular eye exams and guidance from your eye care specialist. As ophthalmologists, we share your “vision” of maintaining healthy eyes and enjoying life!
If you have any questions about these or any conditions of the eye, contact us at 704-365-0555 for an appointment.