Your eyes are incredibly complicated and very resilient. However, there are a number of diseases that can steal your sight permanently. Catching these as they are developing can make the difference between seeing well into your golden years and losing your vision altogether.
Also called the silent thief of sight, glaucoma is an eye disease that is caused by the deterioration of the optic nerve. This affects your peripheral vision extremely slowly, completely imperceptible to you. Left untreated, this condition will most likely eventually cause total blindness, a change that is irreversible. The good news is that early signs are evident at your annual exam, giving you and your optometrist time to slow or halt the progression.
Glaucoma is most prevalent in aging eyes, but there are a number of other factors that contribute to a higher risk of developing this disease:
There are three main types of glaucoma. In each, glaucoma is caused by high intraocular pressure or IOP. Between your iris and cornea, there is a liquid called the aqueous humor. It is constantly draining and filling concurrently. If the liquid is not draining at the same rate it is filling, the IOP rises, damaging the optic nerve.
Open Angle Glaucoma: This is the most common variation. In this form, the angle between the cornea and iris is blocked or not open wide enough to facilitate the right amount of drainage. Over a long period of time, the IOP rises, slowly damaging the optic nerve.
Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma: The angle between the iris and cornea is too narrow to allow drainage. This happens very suddenly and is accompanied by additional extreme symptoms such as vomiting, intense headache, eye pain, and blurry vision. This is a medical emergency. If you experience these symptoms, go to the nearest emergency facility.
Normal Tension Glaucoma: In this case, the eye’s drainage system is functioning as it should, and the intraocular pressure is in a normal range. Inexplicably, the optic nerve continues to sustain damage.
There are a number of treatments available, unfortunately, none can restore lost vision. Early detection is the only way to prevent vision loss. Eye drops, laser treatments and surgery have shown some efficacy to lower eye pressure.
When the natural lens ages, it often begins to cloud. This is a natural process in the eye and quite common for those over the age of 60. Some doctors estimate all eyes over the age of 65 have some evidence of cataract formation. The result is dim, blurry vision with faded colours. This change is hard to detect, as it happens extremely slowly. Your optometrist can alert you at your annual exam if you are showing signs of cataracts.
Age is the biggest contributor to the formation of cataracts. Other risk factors include:
Proper nutrition and UV protection like sunglasses can help slow the formation of cataracts, but may not prevent them altogether. At first, a change in prescription, bigger fonts, and better lighting can help you live with cataracts. Over time, surgery may be necessary.
Lens replacement surgery is incredibly safe and successful, at a rate of 95%. In this surgery, your natural lens is broken up with ultrasound waves and carefully removed from your eye. A synthetic lens is then placed into your eye. Your eyesight is restored and you never risk developing cataracts again.
This disease affects your central vision, but may be hard to perceive at first. It may cause distortion in your sight, and over time lead to blank spots and eventual blindness. There are no treatments for the vision lost to AMD, but lifestyle changes like smoking cessation, nutrient supplements, and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Dry AMD: This form makes up 90% of all cases. Fatty proteins called drusen build up on the retina at the back of the eye. These deposits cause a gradual dimming of the vision over time. There is no way to reverse this change and, it could lead to wet AMD.
Wet AMD: This form is uncommon but happens extremely quickly. Blood vessels, weakened by age, become damaged. The body attempts to create new ones, but these are inevitably weaker and leaky. This leads to macular scarring and vision loss. This may or may not be preceded by dry AMD. Treatment for wet AMD includes injections to try to heal the leaky blood vessels.
A healthy diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is your best bet for reducing your chances of developing AMD. Supplements have been created just for this disease, ask your optometrists which would be best for you. To best defend yourself against AMD, arm yourself with these nutrients:
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