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Age-related eye disease affects 38 million PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, June 13, 2013 11:53 PM


Staff Writer

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DELPHOS — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 38 million Americans (one in eight) have common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. By the year 2030, the number is expected to increase to 56 million. Statistics show that by age 65, one in three seniors have some form of vision-impairing eye disease.

Vision loss is an important health concern because it is associated with falls, depression, social isolation and overall poorer health. Among those 65 years and older, 54.2 percent of those who are blind and 41.7 percent of those with impaired vision say their overall health is fair or poor.

Pyjka Eye Center Ophthalmologists Doctor Brian Chinavare said that after the age of 40, especially if there is history of eye disease in the family, adults need yearly screening exams by an eye care professional. The earlier these diseases are diagnosed and treated, the greater the success with countering their progression. In addition, the better a person’s overall health is, the healthier their eyes will be.

“We check for all four of the most common eye diseases—macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy—which are sneaky, insidious diseases,” Chinavare explained.

Macular Degeneration (MD) is the most common and worst eye-related debilitating disease affecting the older adult population. The inherited disease diminishes sight by affecting the central vision. Normally, people with the disease do not go blind because of it, but find it difficult to read, drive and perform other daily functions.

“Eyes are like a camera with two lenses,” Chinavare detailed. “The retina absorbs light which becomes a signal that travels to the brain via the optic nerve.”

With MD, the macula (light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye) become damaged and vision decreases since the conversion of light, or an image, can not fully be transmitted into electrical impulses and then sent to the brain.

People with the disease can be treated with laser surgery, Anti-angiogenesis drugs, which normalize the blood vessels, and low-vision devices.

Age is the biggest risk factor for developing MD. After age 75, up to 46 percent of people may have some form of it. Caucasians also have a higher risk for the disease.

The second leading age-related eye disease is glaucoma. The CDC describes the two major categories as “open angle” and “closed angle” glaucoma. Open angle, is a chronic condition that progress slowly over long period of time without the person noticing vision loss until the disease is very advanced, that is why it is called “sneak thief of sight.” Closed angle can appear suddenly and is painful. Visual loss can progress quickly; however, the pain and discomfort usually leads patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs.

Chinavare said that glaucoma usually affects people in their 50s and 60s.

“Eye pressure is like a car tire,” Chinavare explained. “Higher pressure increases the blood flow damaging the optic nerve.”

Symptoms include blurred vision, loss of peripheral vision, halo effects around lights and painful or reddened eyes. People at high risk include those over the age of 40, diabetic, near-sighted, African-American or those who have a family history of glaucoma.

Once diagnosed, glaucoma can be controlled with treatments—prescription eye drops and medications, laser therapy, and surgery—to lower pressure in the eye. It is estimated that 2.2 million people are currently affected by glaucoma and by the year 2020, it is projected that 3.3 million will be impacted by the disease.

Cataracts are caused by a chemical change of unknown origin in the eye, and cause blurred or distorted vision. They cannot be prevented from forming, but early detection through regular eye exams can help maintain the clearest vision possible.

“A cataract is a cloudy or yellow discoloration of the normally clear fluid between the eye lens and pupil of the eye,” Chinavere said. “Treatment includes vacuuming out the cloudy fluid and replacing it with a life-long lens replacement implant (intraocular lens or IOL). This is the most common surgery done in America.”

Risk factors for developing cataracts include being over 55 years old, eye injury or disease, a family history of cataracts, smoking or use of certain medications.

There is no pain associated with the condition, but symptoms include; blurred/hazy vision; spots in front of the eye(s); sensitivity to glare; a feeling of “film” over the eye(s); and a temporary improvement in near vision. In addition, women are at slightly higher risk than men for cataracts. Currently, 20.5 million people have been diagnosed with cataracts and in 2030, it is estimated that 30.1 million will be affected by cataracts.

Diabetic Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that weakens the blood vessels that nourish the retina in the back of the eye.

“It damages the veins and arteries causing shrinking of the blood supply,” Chinavere stated. “It’s less aggressive and when caught in it’s early stages and there is a much better outcome.”

Vision can be lost if these weak vessels leak, swell or develop thin branches. As they try to heal, the blood vessels can contract and detach the retina.

Symptoms include shadows or dark objects that “float” across your field of vision, blurred or distorted vision, partial loss of vision and pain in the eye.

Laser treatment can be very effective at preventing vision loss if it is done before the retina has been severely damaged. People with diabetes are most susceptible to developing the disease, but the risk is reduced when a patient follows a prescribed diet and medications, exercises regularly, controls blood pressure, and avoids alcohol and cigarettes.

The number of people who experience diabetic retinopathy is expected to exceed 16 million people by the year 2050.

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