Healthy Eyes Part 1: Common Vision Problems

July 19, 2019

"Eighty percent of vision problems are thought to be avoidable or even curable."

Today we’re talking eye health as we age. There’s a lot to talk about here, so this will be a two-part series. We’ll share some really important information about common age-related eye problems and talk about why these occur, how you’ll know if you are experiencing symptoms of these eye-problems, and what to do if you are. 

Video Highlights

  • 03:59: Fun Facts About Vision
  • 06:41: Eye health and vision statistics
  • 13:08: Two Categories of Vision Issues
  • 14:15: Presbyopia
  • 16:07: Floaters
  • 17:32: Dry Eyes
  • 18:28: Tearing
  • 19:21: Progressive eye diseases and disorders
  • 19:30: Cataracts
  • 21:56: Glaucoma
  • 24:19: Retinal Disorders
  • 31:44: Wrap-Up

So, as you know, we only get one pair of eyes - that’s why it’s important to take good care of them. 

Fun Vision Facts

  • For those of us who do have the privilege of seeing, 80% of what we learn is through our eyes.
  • The pupil of the eye expands 45% more when a person sees something pleasing.
  • The external muscles that move the eyes are the strongest in the human body in proportion to the job they have to do. They are 100 times more powerful than they need to be!
  • Chewing gum while peeling onions can prevent onion tears!
  • Each eyelash has a lifespan of about 5 months
  • If given the right amount of time to adjust, the human eye can see almost as well as an owl
  • The older we get, the fewer tears we produce

Eye health and vision statistics

  • Worldwide , it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of vision impairment. 
  • Cataracts affect more than 24.4 million Americans age 40 and older. By age 75, approximately half of all Americans have cataracts.
  • Glaucoma affects more than 2.7 million Americans age 40 and older.
  • Diabetic retinopathy affects nearly 7.7 million Americans age 40 and older. The number of people in the United States with diabetes is increasing. More than 30 million Americans have diabetes. About 27% of those with diabetes — 8.1 million Americans — do not know they have the disease. Diabetes affects 12.3% of adults age 20 and older.
  • The prevalence of dry eye syndrome increases with age. An estimated 3.2 million women age 50 and over and 1.68 million men age 50 and over are affected by dry eye syndrome.  
  • More than 34 million Americans age 40 and older are myopic (nearsighted), or 24% of that population.
  • Nearly 14.2 million Americans age 40 and older are hyperopic (farsighted), or 8.4% of that population.
  • Astigmatism, a refractive error, occurs in about 1 in 3 people and may occur in combination with near- or farsightedness. It causes blurry vision and is due to the cornea being less than perfectly rounded.
  • More than 150 million Americans use corrective eyewear. Americans spend more than $15 billion each year on eyewear
  • Approximately 37 million Americans wear contact lenses.
  • Approximately 800,000 surgical procedures (such as LASIK and PRK) were performed in 2010.

Our eyes are actually really amazing — think about how fascinating the process of sight and vision really is — it’s actually mind boggling!  

Here are some other fun and interesting facts you may not know about eyes: 

  • The average blink lasts for about 1/10th of a second. 
  • Eyes heal quickly. With proper care, it only takes about 48 hours for the eye to repair a corneal scratch. 
  • Seeing is such a big part of everyday life that it requires about half of your brain to get involved. 
  • Newborns don’t produce tears. They make crying sounds, but the tears don’t start flowing until they are about 4-13 weeks old. 
  • Doctors have yet to find a way to transplant an eyeball. The optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain is too sensitive to reconstruct successfully. 
  • You blink about 12 times every minute. 
  • Your eyes are about 1 inch across and weigh about 0.25 ounce. 
  • Each of your eyes has a small blind spot in the back of the retina where the optic nerve attaches. You don’t notice the hole in your vision because your eyes work together to fill in each other’s blind spot. 
  • Out of all the muscles in your body, the muscles that control your eyes are the most active. 
  • And lastly… 80% of vision problems are thought to be avoidable or even curable. 

Common Vision Issues

Let’s break these vision issues up into two categories: age-related eye problems and age-related eye diseases and disorders. We’ll take a look at some of the most common vision issues and then we will talk about the steps you can take and the foods you should be eating in order to avoid, prevent, and even cure some of these age-related vision issues.

Presbyopia

Presbyopia — or farsightedness — is the loss of ability to see close objects or small print. Development of presbyopia is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime. You may not notice any change until after age 40. People with presbyopia often hold reading materials at arm's length. Some people get headaches or "tired eyes" while reading or doing other close work. Presbyopia is typically corrected with reading glasses.

Floaters

Floaters are tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision. Most people notice them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters are often normal, but can sometimes be indications of eye problems such as optical migraines or retinal detachment, especially if they are accompanied by light flashes. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes, see your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Dry eyes

Dry eyes happen when tear glands cannot make enough tears, or they produce poor quality tears. Dry eyes can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, or even some loss of vision. Your eye doctor may suggest using a humidifier in your home or special eye drops that simulate real tears. Doctors often recommend the use of artificial tears to help relieve these symptoms. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed in more serious cases of dry eyes.

Tearing

Tearing, or having too many tears, can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes. Protecting your eyes by shielding them or wearing sunglasses can sometimes solve the problem. Tearing may also mean that you have a more serious problem, such as an eye infection or a blocked tear duct. In addition, people with dry eyes may tear excessively because dry eyes are easily irritated. 

Progressive eye diseases and disorders

There are also a number of progressive eye diseases and disorders common in aging adults, including:

Cataracts

Catarcats are cloudy areas that develop in the lens in the front of the eye. The lens of your eye is clear like a camera lens. Cataracts keep light from easily passing through the lens to the back of the eye, or your retina, and causes the loss of eyesight. Cataracts usually form slowly, causing no pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. Some cataracts stay small and do not alter eyesight. If they become large or thick and have a significant impact on vision they can almost always be removed with surgery. Cataract surgery is very safe and is one of the most common surgeries done in the United States and around the world. During surgery, the doctor takes out the clouded lens and, in most cases, puts in a clear plastic lens, restoring normal sight if the eye is otherwise healthy.

Glaucoma 

This is usually related to increased pressure inside the eye. If you’ve had an eye exam, The glaucoma test is the test involving a mild puff of air in your eye. If it is not treated, this condition can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. Heredity is a significant risk factor for glaucoma, as is age, race, diabetes, and some medications. Glaucoma is less commonly caused by other factors such as a blunt object or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels, inflammatory disorders of the eye, and occasionally by corrective eye surgery. The increased pressure in the eye is often caused by the channel through which fluid would normally leave the eye becoming blocked or disrupted, causing the fluid to back up, putting pressure on the ocular nerve. Since this nerve sends signals to the brain constantly, the increase in pressure disrupts the flow of those signals, and causes vision loss. Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from increased pressure. 

Retinal disorders 

Retinol disorders are a leading cause of blindness in the United States and in other developed countries. The retina is a thin lining on the back of the eye made up of cells that detect visual images and pass them on to the brain. Retinal disorders interrupt this transfer of images. The most common ones include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment — let’s talk about each one:

  • Age-related macular degeneration or AMD. The macula is the small central portion of the retina contains millions of nerve cells , called cones, that are sensitive to light. This area of the retina is responsible for detailed vision, such as facial recognition and reading. AMD is characterized by the loss of cells in this area causing blurred central vision. It contributes to vision loss but does not cause total blindness. If advanced, there is no cure but in the early stages there is benefit from nutritional supplements. People with the more severe type of AMD may benefit from laser or injection of medication.
  • Diabetic retinopathy. This disorder is a complication of diabetes. It occurs when small blood vessels stop feeding the retina properly. In the early stages of diabetic retinopathy, the blood vessels may leak fluid, causing blurred vision or no symptoms at all. As the disease advances, you may notice floaters, blind spots or cloudiness of vision. New blood vessels may grow and bleed into the center of the eye, causing serious vision loss or blindness. For diabetic swelling of the retina, drug injections and laser may improve or preserve vision. In most advanced cases, laser treatment can prevent blindness. It is very important that people with diabetes have an eye exam with pupil dilation every year. It’s important to point out that the likelihood of diabetic retinopathy is significantly decreased with a healthy diet and especially good blood sugar control.
  • Retinal detachment. Retinal detachment occurs when the inner and outer layers of the retina become separated. Without a retina, the eye cannot communicate with the brain, making vision impossible. Symptoms of retinal detachment include: a sudden appearance of spots or flashes of light; vision that appears wavy, as if you were under water; and a dark shadow anywhere in your field of vision. With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can reattach the retina and bring back all or part of your eyesight.

So, as you can see, there are many issues that can go wrong over time with your eyes, especially as we age. While eye problems and eye diseases become more prevalent with age, fortunately, many can be prevented or corrected if you:

  • See your family physician regularly to check for diseases that could cause eye problems, like diabetes.
  • Visit your ophthalmologist every one to two years. Having a complete eye exam with an eye specialist is important because most eye diseases can be treated when found in an early stage. If you’ve been to the eye doctor, you know the drill — the eye doctor may dilate or enlarge your pupils by putting drops in your eyes. You should also have a screening for glaucoma. The doctor will then test your eyesight, your glasses, and your eye muscles.
  • If you have diabetes or a family history of eye disease, you should get an eye exam with pupil dilation more frequently (at least once every year). Always see an eye doctor immediately if you have any loss of eyesight, blurred vision, eye pain, double vision, redness, swelling of your eye or eyelid, or fluids coming from the eye.

That’s it for Part 1 of our eye health series, in part 2, we’ll go into detail about how diet and the foods you eat can help protect your eyes and preserve the quality of your eyesight, plus specific eye exercises and tips you can do on a daily basis and much more.

Wrap-Up

We shared some important information on the most common eye-related health issues we experience as we age including age-related eye problems, diseases, and disorders. Remember, you only get one pair of eyes, so take care of them. Tune in to part 2 for more on that!

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