The expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is particularly apt when it comes to eye care. Of the five most common eye problems a person might encounter in their lifetime, at least two conditions benefit from early detection.
Glaucoma, a condition that results in progressive damage to the optic nerve, is a perfect example. Its early symptoms often go unnoticed, earning it a reputation as “the silent thief of sight.” Regrettably, by the time many people are diagnosed, the vision damage has become irreversible.
People with undiagnosed and advancing glaucoma have told tales of being behind the wheel and feeling like other drivers are constantly cutting them off, or walking down sidewalks and sensing people coming out of nowhere and getting in front of them.
“The truth of the matter is their peripheral vision is gone,” says Xuan Le-Nguyen, an ophthalmologist at Desert Eye Associates in La Quinta who specializes in glaucoma. And what is lost cannot be regained; it is permanent.
“Ultraviolet light exposure is a significant factor in cataract development and macular degeneration.”
Bart P. Ketover, Ophthalmologist
Everyone is at some risk for developing glaucoma, and the odds increase with age. It’s typically associated with an increase in pressure inside the eye — which underscores the importance of yearly eye exams, where eye pressure will be assessed. “One of the only ways that we know of to treat glaucoma is by measuring and treating the eye pressure,” Le-Nguyen says.
Another ocular condition commonly associated with advancing years is age-related macular degeneration, also known as AMD or ARMD. “People should be sure to get yearly dilated eye exams after the age of 50 to look for early signs,” says ophthalmologist Camille Harrison, a retinal specialist who heads up Coachella Valley Retina in Rancho Mirage.
There are two types of AMD: a dry form, which accounts for about 80 percent of all cases, and the less common wet form. Both cause an individual’s central vision to deteriorate but the more aggressive wet form accelerates the process.
The good news? Progression can be slowed and sometimes halted with early identification of the condition.
Unfortunately, age-related macular degeneration cannot be prevented. “Once diagnosed, however, AREDS2 eye vitamins, UV protection, and daily home screening can make a difference,” Harrison says. Treatment for the wet variety requires antivascular endothelial growth factor medications, including a newly FDA-approved variety that combines a vascular growth factor inhibitor with another called Ang-2.
“One of the only ways that we know of to treat glaucoma is by measuring and treating the eye pressure.”
Xuan Le-Nguyen, Ophthalmologist
The wind and ample sunshine experienced by desert dwellers warrants taking special precautions when it comes to eye care. Dry eye, a common concern that can range from mild irritative symptoms to severe discomfort and even scarring, certainly benefits from the use of preservative-free, over-the-counter lubricating eyedrops.
“Ultraviolet light exposure is a significant factor in cataract development and macular degeneration,” says Bart P. Ketover, an ophthalmologist and cataract specialist at the Milauskas Eye Institute. “If you spend time outside, you should certainly be wearing UV protecting sunglasses, no question.”
There is some relief in knowing that cataracts — yet another of the five most common eye concerns — are reversible through surgery. In this regard, cataracts differ significantly from glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration. “Cataracts aren’t harmful, so if you don’t pick up on their presence early on, you won’t have caused any permanent damage,” Ketover says. In fact, cataract removal is one of the most successful surgeries in the United States.
Although aging is definitely a culprit in many eye-related concerns, other health conditions can weigh just as heavily. Chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the retina. “Diabetes can cause swelling or bleeding in the retina, and it can literally block people’s central vision,” Le-Nguyen says.
Proactivity appears to be the operative word in maintaining good eye care. It involves taking simple measures such as wearing protective eyewear or even a hat. It might include application of lubricating eye drops to ward off dry eye. It most definitely entails scheduling regular visits with an eye doctor to keep a close watch on the possibility of conditions that could cause irreversible damage.
Finally, as in all things, the importance of maintaining overall good health should never be underestimated. An ounce of prevention can go a long way toward ensuring your vision outlives you.
• READ NEXT: How to Make Your Home Free of Health and Safety Hazards.