By Jeffrey Whitman, M.D., Key-Whitman Eye Center
While our vision brings us joys year-round, summer in Texas is a special time to take in the sights. Whether it’s gazing up at the stars in Big Bend National Park or marveling at the architecture in Galveston’s Strand Historic District, your eyes allow you to take in life’s many pleasure.
But in Texas, eye disease is a particular problem. According to the Texas Department of Health Services, 18% of Texans have an eye disease. Due to the increase in America’s aging population, the impact of diabetes, hypertension, and tobacco use, eye disease and vision loss are on the rise in the Lone Star State.
Common vision loss ailments include macular degeneration. Symptoms for this disease may include a dark area in the center of your vision and the gradual loss of the ability to see objects clearly. Another leading cause of vision loss is glaucoma, which causes progressive degeneration of the optic nerve and again, leads to loss of vision.
Cataracts remain the most common cause of blindness, especially for older individuals, although this condition can be easily corrected. Finally, there are complications from diabetes known as diabetic retinopathy which doesn’t necessarily produce symptoms and can result in damage to the blood vessels in the retina. The best defense is early, and regular, vision screenings, particularly if you suffer from diabetes.
Early identification for many of these vision issues, particularly glaucoma and macular degeneration, can lead to vision-preserving care and treatment.
With early detection and preventative measures, there is hope for Texans to minimize the debilitating effects of vision loss, which can lead to more complications such as lost independence, an increased risk of falls, social withdrawal, and even depression and anxiety.
Those most at risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are smokers, which can double the risk of AMD. While the risk for cataracts increase with age, there are additional factors that increase the risk for cataracts including diabetes, smoking and excessive alcohol use. While there are differing schools of thoughts, and research findings, regarding the impact of prolonged exposure to ultraviolet sunlight, using the precaution of minimized sun exposure and protective eyewear is never a bad idea.
Unfortunately, there are no warning signs for diabetic eye disease. Instead, you and your loved ones should focus on treating diabetes. According to the National Eye Institute, you and your loved ones should focus on staying on “TRACK.”
- Take your medications.
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- Add physical activity to your daily routine.
- Control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
- Kick the smoking habit.
Glaucoma, a group of diseases resulting in vision loss and blindness, is best tackled with early treatment. Many studies have proven the effectiveness of early detection and treatment of glaucoma before it results in significant vision loss.
First, the need for a yearly comprehensive dilated eye exam is an absolute must, especially if you’re over the age of 40. Early detection remains the best method for both preventing eye disease and minimizing vision loss for you and your loved ones.
While we all know our vision is important, it’s essential to keep in mind the relationship between our eyes and our overall health. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best preventative measure to prevent both vision loss and eye problems.
Key healthy lifestyle factors include:
- A healthy and nutritious diet, especially with a lot of leafy green vegetables and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- An active lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight and keep blood pressure under control.
- Urging diabetic or pre-diabetic family members to make lifestyle changes.
- Wearing proper sunglasses with UV protection or brimmed hats outdoors.
- A commitment to kicking the smoking habit.
- Talking to an eye care professional about your habits and family eye health history.
Working together with an eye care professional and your family, Texans can take the necessary steps to help ensure they maintain the quality of life they deserve and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. Above all else, please remember to schedule your yearly comprehensive dilated eye exams. As with all health issues, early discovery of medical conditions, and prompt treatment, can greatly increase your changes of stopping or minimizing the loss of one of your most precious assets, your vision.
Jeffrey Whitman, M.D., President and Chief Surgeon of the Texas-based Key-Whitman Eye Center, is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology a recipient of the American Medical Association Physician’s Recognition Award, and is committed to eye health and wellbeing in the community.