What are the Most Common Causes of Vision Loss?
Although they’re incredibly resilient and powerful, the eyes can be susceptible to a variety of complications. Something as intricate and functional as the human eye is bound to be somewhat vulnerable—with so many things to do, just as many can go wrong. Fortunately, however, we have developed effective treatments for many of the potential medical issues your eyes can have, and we understand more about conditions that affect your vision every day. To help everyone better understand the eye-related medical issues they might need to deal with, we’re discussing three of the most common causes of vision loss in today’s blog:
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects an estimated 1.8 million people over age 40 in the United States. As its name suggests, AMD is associated with aging and affects the macula, the central part of the retina. AMD results in damage to sharp and central vision, causing sufferers to lose vision abilities that are crucial to important daily tasks. The macula is largely responsible for our ability to see fine details, so damage to it affects activities like reading and driving. It’s the leading cause of fine or close-up vision impairment among people above the age of 50.
There are two main types of age-related macular degeneration: dry AMD and wet AMD. With the far more common dry AMD, the macula becomes thinner with time, leading to blurred vision and eventually threatening central vision altogether. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels behind the retina grow beneath the macula, eventually causing fluids to leak and scarring to occur, which can rapidly damage the patient’s central vision. Wet AMD progresses much faster than dry AMD. An early sign of dry or wet AMD is the presence of drusen, tiny yellow or white deposits underneath the retina. The drusen themselves don’t cause vision loss, but they do raise the risk of developing dry or wet AMD. The CDC estimates that there are 7.3 million people in the United States with large drusen—that is, people at increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.
Cataracts are the number one cause of blindness in the world, affecting an estimated 20.5 million people. A patient with cataracts experiences clouding of their eye’s lens, a phenomenon that can be caused by several different factors. There are effective and relatively straightforward surgical treatments for cataracts—the cloudy lens can be removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens in a procedure called intraocular lens replacement surgery. We discuss this condition in greater detail in a previous blog about the causes and treatments of cataracts.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is the number one cause of blindness among adults in the United States, affecting 4.1 million people. With this condition, progressive damage to the retina’s blood vessels causes them to swell, distort, and eventually lose their ability to transport blood. Unfortunately, DR has little-to-no symptoms in its early stages and can progress to difficult-to-treat levels before it’s apparent. This is one of the many reasons it’s important to regularly have comprehensive medical eye exams (how often depends on your age and health status, though once per year is a good rule of thumb). Eventually, diabetic retinopathy manifests in eye floaters, dark spots that float in your field of vision. These are the result of blood leaking from damaged blood vessels and into the eye.
Because DR is a complication of diabetes, you can reduce your risk of developing it by keeping your blood pressure, blood sugar, and lipids at healthy levels.
At Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons, we’re committed to treating and educating the public on eye health. If you would like to know more about keeping your eyes healthy, or if you would like to schedule a routine or comprehensive medical eye exam, please contact Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay at Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more tips, points of interest, and news.