Age-Related Eye Diseases
Macular degeneration is one of several age-related eye diseases and conditions that also include cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Here is a brief summary of the top four age-related eye problems:
A cataract is opacification (clouding) of the normally clear lens inside the eye. Most cataracts occur after age 50.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), in 2004 an estimated 20.5 million Americans age 40 or older had cataracts in at least one eye, and the total number of people in the United States with cataracts is estimated to rise to 30.1 million by 2020.
Thankfully, vision loss from cataracts usually can be fully restored with cataract surgery.
In a cataract operation, the surgeon removes the eye's cloudy lens and replaces it with a clear intraocular lens (IOL) implant. The surgery takes only a few minutes.
Modern IOLs used in cataract eye surgery, such as the Crystalens accommodating IOL, can even reduce your need for reading glasses after cataract removal.
Learn more about cataracts and cataract surgery here.
Glaucoma is sometimes called the "silent thief of sight," because typically there are no glaucoma symptoms until irreversible vision loss has occurred. This is why routine eye exams are so important. During the exam, your eye doctor or an assistant will perform one or more glaucoma tests to assess your eye pressure and/or visual field.
If these tests indicate high eye pressure or visual field loss, your eye doctor will recommend glaucoma treatment. The most common treatment is medicated eye drops for glaucoma, which are designed to reduce the pressure inside the eye to prevent optic nerve damage.
Learn more about glaucoma and glaucoma treatments here.
Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is progressive damage to the critical central portion of the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye. The central part of the retina is called the macula, and it is responsible for detailed vision (used for tasks like reading, seeing road signs and recognizing faces) and color vision.
A vision screening device called an Amsler grid often is used to rule out or monitor vision changes caused by macular degeneration. This is simply a grid pattern of straight lines with a fixation point in the center of the grid. If, while you look at the fixation point, some of the lines look bent or distorted, you may have AMD. A more detailed visual field test may be performed during or after a comprehensive eye exam if your doctor suspects you have AMD.
Vision loss from macular degeneration, like glaucoma, typically is irreversible. Though macular degeneration treatment remains very challenging, new drug therapies are showing promising results to slow or halt the progression of AMD if it is caught early.
Many people with macular degeneration are left with only partial vision, a condition known as low vision. To help people with low vision use their remaining vision as efficiently as possible, eye doctors often recommend low vision aids.
Low vision aids include special magnifiers and telescopes, which can be hand-held or mounted on special eyeglass frames. In some cases, magnifiers can be as simple as an extra-powerful pair of reading glasses.
If you have low vision from macular degeneration, glaucoma or other eye disease, your eye doctor may refer you to a low vision specialist to determine the best low vision aids for your needs and to teach you how to use low vision products.
Diabetic retinopathy is damage to the retina due to long-standing or uncontrolled diabetes, and is the leading cause of blindness due to eye disease among Americans younger than age 65.
The disease causes deposits to form in the retina and damages blood vessels that nourish the retina, which can cause these vessels to leak blood into the eye. If a significant amount of bleeding occurs in the eye, a surgical treatment called a vitrectomy may be needed to remove the blood to restore vision.
In most cases, diabetic retinopathy treatment consists of managing the underlying disease by maintaining good blood sugar control with diet, exercise and medication. In some cases, laser treatment of the retina is performed to seal leaking blood vessels or increase the nutrient supply to the central retina.
Like glaucoma and macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy often causes low vision.
Importance of Eye Exams
The best way to prevent or limit vision loss from age-related eye diseases is to have routine comprehensive eye exams. Also, a healthy lifestyle, including a proper diet and plenty of exercise, may help lower your risk of these sight-threatening diseases.