The Importance of Eye Exams

What you need to know about the most common eye diseases

A visit with your eye doctor can determine your need for glasses, but it can also help maintain eye health through a check of your eye pressure and a look inside your retina via a dilated eye exam. People with diabetes and those over the age of 65 should have an annual eye checkup; those between the ages of 40 and 65 (and African Americans over the age of 20) should visit their eye doctor every 2–4 years; and others over the age of 20 should seek eye care at least every 3–5 years. If eye diseases run in your family, ask your doctor how often you should seek a health check.

Your eyesight is a precious sense. Here's what you need to know about the leading causes of blindness, including how to prevent and treat them.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

The macula, in the retina, is one of the eye's most sensitive parts. When cells in the macula fail, central vision disappears, called "Dry AMD." Sometimes blood leaks in the macula, causing rapid vision loss, called "wet AMD." Those over the age of 65, women, smokers, and Caucasians with blue eyes are at particular risk.

Prevent AMD

  • Eat Smart. Maintain a healthy weight and eat plenty of fish (twice a week). Eat plenty of green leafy vegetables like spinach; they're high in a substance called lutein, which researchers suspect may help to keep the macula healthy.
  • Consider a Daily Supplement. "Vitamins C, E and beta-carotene, and the minerals zinc and copper may prevent the advance of MD by 25 percent," says Emily Chew, MD, deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Research shows vitamin D may also reduce AMD risk.
  • Wear Sunglasses. Exposure to bright sunlight may increase your risk of AMD. Wear glasses that block UV radiation.

Treat AMD

There are no proven treatments for dry AMD, but antioxidant supplements, marketed as Ocuvite Preservision and ICAPS AREDS Formula have been shown to slow the progression of the disease. And there are several therapies for wet AMD. Photodynamic therapy utilizes a specialized laser to target and seal damaged blood vessels. There are also eye drops and even eye injections that can improve vision.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma occurs when fluid buildup in the eye damages the nerve linking eye to brain, making messages between the two impossible. African Americans are up to eight times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians, especially those over age 40.

Prevent Glaucoma

The tragedy of glaucoma is that its signs—including sudden blurred vision and eye pain—often appear overnight. Attending to symptoms with prompt medical care is your best defense.

Treat Glaucoma

Eye drops can help reduce eye pressure, and laser surgery can be performed in order to improve the drainage of fluid in the eye.

Diabetic Retinopathy

People with diabetes, a disease involving the body's inability to break down blood sugar, are at particular risk for eye troubles. Nearly half of all diabetics will develop retinopathy, bleeding and swelling of vessels in the retina, which can lead to eventual blindness.

Prevent Diabetic Retinopathy

The best thing to do to prevent retinopathy is prevent diabetes. Eat a healthy diet, keep to a healthy weight, and exercise at least three times a week, for 30 minutes.

  • Control Blood Sugar. "People with diabetes can reduce the risk of eye disease by as much as 70 percent with good glucose control," says Dr. Chew.
  • Watch Blood Pressure & Cholesterol. High blood cholesterol (over 240 mg/dL) and high blood pressure can increase your risk for retinopathy.

Treat Diabetic Retinopathy

"Laser surgery can stop bleeding vessels in their tracks," says Dr. Chew. Surgery to drain blood can also help severe bleedings.

Cataracts

No one wants to view life through a waterfall, which is just what it's like to have cataracts—when the lens of the eye clouds over. Cataracts become more common with age.

Prevent Cataracts

Research suggests that food high in lutein (spinach) and other vitamins like vitamin C (citrus fruits) may reduce the risk of cataracts. "Dietary supplements may help," says Dr. Chew.

Treat Cataracts

Replacing the damaged lens with a synthetic one via surgery is usually very successful for improving vision.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 26 May 2010

Last Modified: 16 Dec 2014