While refractive errors—also known as near-sightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism—are the most frequent eye issues seen in the United States, other conditions—including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and age-related macular degeneration are much more dangerous. Many of these disorders can cause vision loss and eventual blindness if left untreated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 1.8 million Americans over the age of 40 are affected by age-related macular degeneration (AMD). They expect that number to grow to 2.95 million by 2020. The disease is the leading cause of permanent vision impairment in people over the age of 65. While there is no cure, treatments including laser therapy and anti-angiogenic drug injections may slow the progression of the condition.
The number of people with diabetic retinopathy is equally staggering. This condition is the leading cause of blindness among Americans between the ages of 20 and 74. The CDC estimates 4.1 million people in the U.S. are affected by retinopathy. This disease is also incurable. Though you can reduce your risks of developing it by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure, early diagnosis is necessary to prevent vision loss. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, half of all diabetic retinopathy patients discover they have the condition too late for treatment to be effective.
For this reason, an annual eye exam—including dilation—is the number one step you should take to protect your vision. Not only is this the best way to find out if your vision can be improved by glasses or contacts, but it’s the only way for an eye care professional to ascertain if you have the early signs of any of the eye-related diseases previously mentioned.
Additional steps you can take to improve your chances of enjoying excellent vision throughout your life include:
- Explore your family’s eye health history. Some eye diseases and conditions—including glaucoma, which affects more than 2 million Americans according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, are hereditary.
- Practice good nutrition. Several studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E are essential for good vision and may even help to prevent age-related vision problems including cataracts and macular degeneration. Good sources of these nutrients include leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards), oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines), citrus (oranges, grapefruit), and non-meat sources of protein (eggs, nuts, beans).
- Maintain a healthy weight. Reducing your consumption of processed sugars and carbs will help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid becoming insulin resistance—which means you’ll be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes and diabetic retinopathy.
- If you’re a smoker, stop. Smoking increases your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration. It can also cause optic nerve damage.
- Wear sunglasses. Much like smoke, too much UV from the sun can lead to cataracts and macular degeneration. Look for lenses that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. While some contact lenses include a modicum of UV protection, sunglasses are still a good idea to increase coverage.
- Use protective eyewear. Whether you’re playing sports, mowing the lawn or work in an environment where eye injury is common, protective eyewear will help you prevent vision loss due to traumatic injury of the eye.
An insurance plan is a great way to save on your family’s annual eye care needs. While the Affordable Care Act requires compliant medical insurance plans to cover pediatric vision services, anyone over the age of 19 will need a supplemental vision insurance program. Talk to your insurance broker about options to suit any budget.