Understanding Eye Diseases

Eye disease awareness

Eye problems are the second most prevalent health concern in the United States, affecting more than 120 million adults. Vision loss is among the top 10 causes of disability, with an estimated 60 million Americans at risk. As Americans age, reports of major eye diseases will increase.

There are four primary eye diseases linked to vision loss or blindness: age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. These diseases usually develop slowly and are considered silent stealers of vision health. Let’s review each one to understand the potential impact on your vision:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – This disease destroys the macula, the light-sensitive cells in the middle part of your retina, that allows you to see fine details; usually classified as either dry or wet AMD; initially develops slowly, but can progress quickly to an advanced stage and permanently damage your vision; prescription drug treatment is usually called for to slow the progression of the disease
  • Cataracts – Described as clouding of the lens of the eye that makes objects look foggy or filmy; occurs in one or both eyes; usually not painful or may not necessarily irritate the eye; by age 80, at least half of all Americans have cataracts or have been treated for the disease; surgery is often the best treatment plan for removing the cataract(s), making this procedure the most frequently performed surgery in the U.S.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – Classified as the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.; at least half of all Americans with diabetes have not had an eye exam to check the healthiness of their retinas; if diabetes is not kept under control, the blood vessels may leak, swell and damage nerve tissues in the eye and eventually result in diminished or permanent vision loss; costs for treating diabetic retinopathy in the U.S. are estimated at $1.6 billion annually in terms of health care costs and lost productivity
  • Glaucoma – Occurs when the optic nerve is damaged by excessive fluid pressure within the eyeball; if the fluid does not drain properly, pressure gradually builds up and eventually may lead to irreversible vision loss

In addition to these common diseases, blindness or low vision affects more than 3 million people age 40 and older. By 2020, more than 5.5 million Americans will experience blindness or low vision, according to the National Eye Institute.

Americans often do not regularly schedule eye exams because they don’t notice any eye problems. But many eye and vision problems do not have signs or symptoms that are easily recognized in the early stages.

In order to maintain excellent vision throughout life, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends regularly scheduling a comprehensive exam with your eye doctor. During the exam, various tests will provide a detailed view inside the eye, enabling your doctor to detect potential diseases and health concerns.

Have you, or someone you know, been diagnosed with an eye disease? If so, how was the disease detected and what was the treatment process? – Scott Delisi, Ameritas Group