COMMON DISEASES OF THE EYE – Caught early, they can be managed and your vision protected!

With proper attention and care, your eyes may serve you well for a lifetime. But certain conditions deserve regular attention from your Lake Eye ophthalmologist, to ensure they don’t cause permanent vision damage. Particularly after you pass age 50, it is important to have regular comprehensive eye health exams, which go beyond a simple vision exam, to catch changes early. With treatment, most eye diseases can be stopped or slowed in their tracks, to help preserve your clear, healthy vision now and through the years to come.

GLAUCOMA

Glaucoma is a set of diseases affecting the optic nerve, which is located at the back of the eye. The optic nerve is responsible for transferring visual images captured by the retina to the brain. Glaucoma causes a rise in eye pressure, which can damage the optic nerve. The two main types of glaucoma are open-angle and angle-closure, both of which increase pressure inside the eye, impacting the optic nerve. Roughly 90% of glaucoma cases are open-angle, in which the canals that naturally alleviate eye pressure become congested. Open-angle glaucoma tends to develop slowly over time, and changes can be so subtle that they go unnoticed even as damage occurs. Approximately three million Americans suffer from this type of glaucoma, and many are unaware that they have it.

Angle-closure glaucoma results from a narrow or closed angle between the iris and the cornea of the eye, also resulting in blockage of the drainage canals and an increase in eye pressure, but this type develops rapidly, often causing symptoms like “blind spots” within one’s field of vision that usually signal permanent vision damage. Left untreated, both types of glaucoma can result in blindness. 

“This all sounds very dire, but vision damage from glaucoma can be prevented or arrested with regular comprehensive ophthalmological exams,” says Board Certified ophthalmologist, Dr. Mark Vocci of Lake Eye Associates. “A full eye health check includes analysis of eye angles and the optic nerve itself. When changes are noticed, most cases can be effectively managed with prescription eye drops, to keep drainage flowing and reduce eye pressure. Angle-closure glaucoma can be treated with laser surgery to help stop or delay its progress.”

Caught early, glaucoma can be effectively treated and managed, so make sure to have regular comprehensive exams, especially if you’re age 50 or older.

DIABETIC RETINOPATHY

Diabetes describes a group of metabolic disorders associated with prolonged levels of elevated blood sugar. This high blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the retina, causing them to leak or overproduce, a condition called diabetic retinopathy. The early stage of the disease, commonly known as background retinopathy, causes the retina to leak blood or fluid, which can lead to swelling or the formation of deposits. Left untreated, background retinopathy can progress into a condition known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy, in which the retina produces new, weak blood vessels that rupture and bleed, which can often be seen as “floaters,” or dark spots or lines within one’s field of vision. Without treatment, diabetic retinopathy can result in severe vision loss, so it is important to monitor your eye health with regular comprehensive eye exams. “Once it is diagnosed, diabetic retinopathy can be treated and managed a number of ways,” says Dr. Vocci. “Most cases respond to controlling blood sugar and specific medications. In advanced cases, laser surgery can be used to minimize proliferative blood vessels.”

If you have diabetes, the best way to lower your risk of vision impairment is by seeing your ophthalmologist for annual testing. Testing is quick and painless, and a highly effective first step in preserving your vision.

MACULAR DEGENERATION

Macular Degeneration refers to the deterioration of the macula, an area in the retina that allows one to see the fine details needed for reading, driving and watching TV. The most common form is “dry” Age-related Macular Degeneration, or AMD, which accounts for about 90% of cases. AMD is the primary cause of blindness in Americans 65 and older.

About 10% of AMD cases are known as the “wet” form, in which new blood vessels grow beneath the retina. This form is more serious and can advance quickly. Some patients may see their dry AMD progress into the wet form. Others may have both forms in the same eye.

“AMD often produces no early noticeable symptoms, so it goes ignored until vision is affected,” says Dr. Vocci. “But macular degeneration can lead to a permanent loss of central vision, and in some cases AMD causes rapid and severe vision loss, so early detection is important.” A simple test can catch macular degeneration early, when treatments can still be effective in preserving and even restoring sight.

When caught in time, AMD can be effectively managed to help prevent serious vision loss, usually via medication. Wet cases may be managed through laser therapy to arrest abnormal blood vessels.

“I strongly encourage all people to get regular comprehensive eye exams with their ophthalmologist,” says Dr. Vocci. “Especially after age 50, when it should be done every year or two, depending on your health and history. After 60 or if you have diabetes, an annual exam can help protect you against a host of potential vision problems. And few things are more important than vision in preserving one’s quality of life.”

For more information about these and other common eye and vision problems, call the Lake Eye Associates office near you.