You rely on your eyes to navigate and interact with the world around you. Maintaining good vision isn’t just a matter of wearing corrective lenses when you have a refractive error — sight preservation also depends on continued ocular health.
That’s why comprehensive eye examinations go beyond basic vision testing to evaluate your depth perception, peripheral vision, eye muscle movements, how your pupils respond to light, and other important aspects of eye function and health.
With a routine eye exam at Elite Eye Care, Dr. Markiel Yakubov can spot the warning signs of a multitude of health problems, from common “silent” eye diseases that may progress without symptoms for years, to over 270 systemic illnesses with ocular manifestations, like diabetes.
Here, we explore four frequently diagnosed eye diseases, and explain what you can do to reduce your risk of developing them and protect your vision.
Common vision-robbing eye diseases
Over four million adults in the United States are either legally blind or have low vision. That number is set to nearly double in the next few years as the national population continues to age: By 2030, experts expect blindness and low vision to affect over seven million Americans.
Most cases of blindness and low vision are caused by four common eye diseases:
1. Macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive eye disease that damages the macula, or the area in the middle of your retina that gives you sharp central vision. As it slowly destroys the cells in your macula, this painless condition may only cause mild blurry vision or trouble seeing in low light.
“Dry” AMD accounts for up to 90% of macular degeneration cases. Dry AMD develops slowly when the light-sensitive cells in the macula thin with age, grow clumps of protein (drusen), and gradually break down. Less common but far more damaging, “wet” AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow beneath the macula and leak fluid. Wet AMD destroys macular cells — and impairs vision — more rapidly than dry AMD.
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible vision loss in adults aged 50 and older, and the main cause of sight impairment in adults aged past the age of 60.
Glaucoma is a group of related eye diseases that cause chronically elevated intraocular pressure — or higher-than-normal fluid pressure within the eye. This excessive pressure begins releasing at the back of the eye where the optic nerve is connected, damaging the microscopic fibers that transmit visual signals from the eye’s retina to the brain.
As glaucoma slowly destroys the tiny individual fibers that make up your optic nerve, it causes incremental and irreversible optic nerve damage — and progressive vision loss. While it often causes peripheral vision loss first, the loss is so gradual most people can’t tell that their sight is changing.
As a leading cause of blindness in the US, open-angle glaucoma accounts for up to 90% of all glaucoma diagnoses. You can live with this so-called “sneak thief of sight” for years without experiencing any obvious warning signs or symptoms.
3. Diabetic retinopathy
Diabetes-related retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes and the number-one cause of blindness among working-aged American adults. It occurs when poorly controlled blood sugar levels systematically damage the tiny blood vessels in your eyes’ retinas, causing them to bulge or leak.
About one in three middle-aged and older adults with diabetes has diabetic retinopathy, which typically doesn’t cause vision changes until it’s more advanced.
Left undetected, this serious diabetic eye disease can progress to a “proliferative” stage that fosters the formation of weaker blood vessels on the retinal surface. These abnormal vessels can lead to serious vision problems, including floating spots, cobweb-like streaks, and blindness.
The lenses of your eyes are clear structures that help provide sharp vision. Cataracts occur when protein cells in the lens start clumping together, causing abnormal clusters that cloud the lens and reduce the amount of light that reaches your retina.
Cataracts develop slowly, causing noticeable vision problems when they’re more advanced. Without treatment, cataracts only worsen: As more protein clumps develop and make the lens increasingly clouded, images appear increasingly hazy, blurry, colorless, or distorted.
As the most common vision-impairing eye disease, cataracts affect some 24 million people in the US, most of them older adults: By the age of 80, more than one in two Americans either have cataracts or have had cataract removal surgery to correct the problem.
Protect your eyes, preserve your vision
As common as these sight-robbing eye diseases may be, there’s a lot you can do to protect your eyes and preserve your vision. To maintain optimal eye health, we recommend that you:
- Attend regular eye exams, even if you don’t have noticeable vision changes
- Get to know your personal risk factors for eye disease (i.e., older age, diabetes)
- Keep yourself healthy (i.e., lose excess weight, exercise, don’t smoke)
- Protect your eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) light rays; avoid digital eye strain
Early warning signs of cataracts
In their early stages of formation, cataracts don’t typically cause noticeable vision symptoms. As such, there aren’t any so-called “early” warning signs for cataracts. As they grow and progress, however, you may start to notice subtle eyesight changes like:
- Blurry vision that makes you squint or strain your eyes
- Persistently fuzzy vision that makes it hard to see details
- Seeing a face or object as a “ghosted” double image
- Double vision and light sensitivity when driving at night
- Sunlight, lamps, or headlights become painfully bright
- Perceiving bright colors as faded, drab, and less vibrant
- A darkened field of vision that’s tainted yellow or brown
The bottom line? Regular eye exams are the best way to stay on top of your ocular health at every age. Call or click online to schedule a visit at your nearest Elite Eye Care office today. We have five New York City locations: one in Brooklyn, and four throughout the Bronx.