The term blindness evokes many images, few of them anything less than terrifying. There are so many things we depend on vision for, from viewing photos of loved ones to avoiding obstacles in our environment peripherally and everything in between. Blindness occurs secondary to genetics, environment (including trauma) and often the influence of environment on our genetics. This guide was created to help you assess your risks and take measures to prevent the most common causes of blindness as they occur in the US. While total avoidance of all or any of the conditions listed might not be possible, there are many actions you can take to attempt to avoid the worst consequences of them.
Cataract is the most common cause of reversible blindness worldwide. Cataract occurs when the natural lens within the eye becomes cloudy, gradually becoming more and more opaque, diminishing vision as it opacifies. Cataract can occur as the result of systemic disease, certain medications such as systemic steroids and trauma. The most common cause of cataract is lifetime exposure to UV radiation.
WHAT TO DO TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF CATARACT
The process of cataract formation is closely linked to age and exposure to UV. I once heard a doctor say that everyone who lives long enough will develop a cataract sooner or later. One should always protect their eyes from the damage caused by UV radiation to minimize the risk and draw out the timeline within which a cataract may form. This includes wearing hats with brims and UV protecting sunglasses, preferably polarized, that are large in the lens area and minimize exposure of the eye to the suns harmful rays. Research suggests that diets high in anti-oxidants might help delay onset of cataracts. Smokers are almost certain to get early cataract formation and, along with many other potential health reasons, one should avoid smoking. Eyewear should be made of protective plastic (trivec or polycarbonate) to minimize risk of trauma to the eye. Diabetics are at risk for cataract as well so exercising and following your physicians recommendations for maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help as well.
Glaucoma is a condition where vision loss occurs from the periphery of the visual field inwards. It is known as the “silent blinder”, as most glaucoma blindness cannot be detected until the person has permanently lost much of their vision. Genetics are largely to blame, although certain rare glaucoma occurs through trauma to the eye.
What To Do To Reduce Your Risk With Glaucoma
Most glaucoma is genetic and cannot be prevented by diet, exercise or other measures. There are, however, many successful medical treatments to manage the vision loss associated with glaucoma. If you have a family history of the disease, even if you don’t, regular examinations by your eye doctor are important to allow prompt intervention with therapeutic methods before the glaucoma causes devastating vision loss.
Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss in Americans age 60 and older. The macula is a structure within the retina of the eye that is responsible for central vision. When damaged, mostly through oxidative damage brought on by environmental influences acting on genetically inclined individuals, Macular Degeneration leads to central blindness. Sufferers typically maintain peripheral vision are are able to navigate their world, but do not have good form vision; they cannot recognize faces or read print easily withiout the help of extra strong magnification.
What to Do To Reduce Your Risk of Macular Degeneration
Diets high in antioxidants and certain vitamins have been demonstrated to dramatically reduce the risk of macular degeneration. UV exposure has also been implicated as in cataract, so UV protection may be important to reduce risk as well. Certain foods have been shown to be important in providing nutrition that might reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration; spinach and kale are two of these. As in cataract, there is a much greater incidence of macular degeneration in people who smoke or have smoked in their lifetime. Avoid tobacco products. There is a class of medicines called antiVEGF medicines that can help people suffering from one form of macular degeneration if it is diagnosed within a very short window after it occurs, but regular eye check ups by a qualified eye doctor, optometrist or ophthalmologist in order to enable early detection are crucial in helping people who may have early signs make appropriate decisions to stop the worsening of the disease. Diets high in fats have also been implicated as a cause of macular degeneration, so as with every other disease, appropriate dietary advice might help lessen risk.
Diabetes is a disease that damages the small vessels of the body. The two organs with the smallest vessels are the eyes and the kidneys, thus it is often through eye examinations that diabetes is detected. Juvenile diabetes, also known as type 1, is genetic. Adult diabetes, also known as type 2, has a genetic component that is exacerbated through poor lifestyle choices such as diet, lack of exercise, smoking etc.
What to do to reduce your risk of blindness from diabetic eye disease
Diabetes can occur as type 2 even in people with healthy lifestyles, but generally is brought on by unhealthy lifestyle and in many cases can be reversed when healthy lifestyle is resumed. Diabetic retinopathy is more common in uncontrolled diabetes of either type, so regular exercise combined with diet and medication may help to reduce risk of blindness. A study called the ETDRS study (Early Treatment of Diabetic Retinopapthy) showed that people who sought early treatment for diabetic eye disease fared better than those who didn’t in the long run when it came to maintaining vision with diabetic eye disease. This emphasized the importance of regular follow up with they eye doctor as well as the endocrinologist and internist in maintaining vision at risk from diabetes.
The optic nerve is the conduit between the retina of the eye and the “seeing” part of the brain. There are many conditions that can affect the nerve. Many are genetic and have no cure, however many of the common diseases that affect the optic nerve are the result of high blood pressure, or hypertension. Optic nerve disease may cause you to loose sections of your field of vision at a time. Amaurosis fugax is a sudden blindness from decreased blood supply via the ophthalmic artery, usually secondary to carotid artery disease.
What to do to reduce your risk of blindness from optic nerve damage and retinopathy secondary to hypertension.
Managing the effects of hypertension is best done by your internist in concert with a nutritionist. Be sure to maintain a healthy lifestyle, free from smoking and ingesting high fat, high cholesterol foods and high in vegetables and fruits. Monitor your blood pressure regularly and take medications as recommended by your doctor. Be sure to exercise regularly.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disease with no known environmental stimuli and no known cure. While several cures are being researched with some promise, at the time of this writing most RP leads to total and devastating vision loss.
The Cornea is the clear shield that creates the front surface of the eye. As the cornea opacifies, less light enters they eye and blindness can range from subtle vision decrease to total corneal opacification leading to darkening of vision. Corneal opacification can occur secondary to chemical trauma or one of several genetic disease states including corneal dystrophies, keratoconus and corneal degenerations such as pellucid and other marginal degenerations. Certain microbes such as Chlamydia Trachomatis and others can lead to corneal blindess and are particularly common in third-world countries
What to do to reduce your risk of blindness from Corneal Opacification
Regular eye examinations are important in diagnosing conditions that may lead to corneal opacification. Most blindness secondary to corneal opacification can be reversed with corneal transplant surgery. Protecting the eye from chemical trauma when using caustic substances with protective eyewear is crucial.
As always, good eye health, like good health in general is related largely in part to good diet, exercise and healthy lifestyle. This, combined with regular eye examinations by a licensed eye care professional, optometrist or ophthalmologist can help reduce risk of going blind from many eye conditions that left untreated may result in devastating vision loss. For more information on eye and vision care issues visit youreyesite.com
Copyright 2010 – Dr. Alan N. Glazier, Optometrist, PA – All Rights Reserved
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