Why Eye Health Matters

Why Eye Health Matters

It was not too long ago that the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) released a survey showing how Americans treat eye care. According to the national survey, nearly two-thirds of adults in the US experience eye problems. However, the consultation with an eye doctor shows a meager turnout with only 1 in 8. This figure is meager and is very alarming. It means that not many people are mindful of getting their eyes examined.

In fact, data from the CDC and National Eye Institute show that about 3.3 to 4.1 million adult Americans aged 40 and above have low vision or are blind. By the year 2020, it is estimated that there will be a 60 percent increase in this number. Also, the rate of eye infections that need doctor’s assistance numbers to almost a million each year.

The NEI also said showed that there are 24.4 million Americans aged 40 years and above have cataracts. A cataract is a condition characterized by the clouding of the eye lens. It is a common condition among older people, but the symptoms of early cataract can be addressed with proper eyeglasses.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said, globally, there are approximately 1.3 billion people who suffer from vision impairment. Based on the recent data, cataracts and uncorrected refractive errors are the leading causes of vision impairment. In the U.K., 2 million people are recorded as living without sight. Experts said half of these sight loss cases can be avoided. Eye problems, like glaucoma, are preventable with early detection.

Why does eye health matter?

The eyes are regarded as the “windows to one’s soul.” But unfortunately, the eyes are among the most used but neglected parts of the body. As a window to something greater, the eyes reflect the status of health of a patient and not only to correct poor vision.

Eye check-ups show signs of a person’s health conditions. There are two recent studies showing how Alzheimer’s can be detected through the eyes. The studies discuss a non-invasive imaging device which can detect signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the researchers, blood vessels found in the retina are changed if a patient has Alzheimer’s disease. They added that the device can detect it among those who come from a family with a history of Alzheimer’s. For people who had a family history of Alzheimer’s, the inner layer of their retina is found thinner. Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s group patients show loss of retinal blood vessels found at the back portion of their eyes. There was also a certain layer of their retina which appeared thinner. The studies were presented during the 122nd Annual Meeting of the AAO.

Eye examinations could also detect diabetes symptoms. Optometrists can see blood or fluid seepage as symptoms in a diabetic patient. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to vision loss. In a patient with hypertension, the tiny blood vessels on the eyes can be seen thickened and strained. The strain on the eye may lead to swelling on the retina. But if an optometrist was able to see it, they can discuss the disease further with the patient.

Aside from diabetes and hypertension, cardiovascular disease can also be seen in the eyes with the help of medical tools. If a patient has a periodic blurring of vision or other visual symptoms, it could warn the patient of a cardiovascular problem.

Common eye problems

While eye problems become more common as people age, the WHO said a lot of cases of visual impairment can be avoided. In fact, they describe 80 percent of cases of visual impairment is “considered avoidable.”

In order to prevent eye problems, the first thing to do is to learn what causes vision impairment. The WHO listed the following as the main causes of vision impairment:

  1. Age-related macular degeneration – People over 60 are vulnerable to macular degeneration. Smokers, obese patients with hypertension also have the highest risk of having AMD. The symptoms of AMD are often painless, however, the condition may progress rapidly or slowly depending on the person. There are different types of AMD cases. When a person has dry AMD his central vision may be affected within a few years time. Meanwhile, those with wet AMD may experience sudden changes in vision. Symptoms of AMD include trouble in seeing distant things. Patients may also have difficulty in seeing details like words or images. Patients who see straight lines as a bit wavy might have a symptom of the wet type of AMD. While those who have a blurred central vision might have a symptom of dry AMD. Seeing dark or white spots in the central vision is also a possible symptom.
  • Cataract – Cataract is an eye condition characterized by cloudy lens or lenses. The condition may start with just one eye until it eventually affects both. The cataract can be seen as more noticeable on one eye at the start. It can be seen as a small cloudy patch first until it grows denser. Vision is affected by cataract since the cloudy lens prevents the light to pass through. With lesser light passing on the eye, the patient with cataract experiences blurred vision. Cataract usually affects elderly people but there are also other factors that increase the risk of having it. Among these factors are drinking, smoking, taking certain medications, eye trauma, diabetes, and overexposure to UV rays.   
  • Corneal opacity – Corneal opacity is a disorder that happens when the cornea gets scarred. Because of it, the light cannot pass through to the retina causing the cornea to appear clouded. Usually, corneal opacity is present in a patient who had an injury, abrasion or scratch on the cornea, eye swelling or infection. Patients are likely to increase their risk of having corneal opacity if they have Vitamin A deficiency, infections, or Keratoconus. People who wear their contact lenses overnight are also at risk.
  • Diabetic retinopathy – Patients with diabetes are highly at risk of developing eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. In particular, diabetic retinopathy is a condition that affects more than 5 million American adults. Those who have this condition has damaged blood vessels that may lead to vision loss in two ways. First, the fluid leaks into the macula, where the central vision of the retina is processed. The fluid then causes the macula to swell leading to blurred vision. Second, there are new and irregular blood vessels that grow. This happens on proliferative retinopathy and it causes leaking of blood at the eye’s center. It can lead to blurred vision and retinal detachment. The development of diabetic retinopathy in both eyes is a common occurrence. The condition has four stages and the most severe stage is the proliferative retinopathy.
  • Glaucoma – It is difficult to detect glaucoma in patients since the condition has no symptoms when it starts. The symptom usually shows up until the patient is already on the most advanced stage. The patient may experience blurred vision, problems in focusing, narrowed vision, or a halo effect when there is extreme eye pressure. Unfortunately, it is also the time when the patient’s vision is almost gone.  
  • Trachoma– Trachoma is an eye disease due to infection caused by Chlamydia trachomitis. The infection spreads via hands, beddings, or clothing. It can also be carried by flies that came into contact with the eye or nose discharge of a patient. According to the WHO, 37 countries consider trachoma as a public health problem. It caused visual impairment or blindness to 1.9 million people globally. Once a person with trachoma loses his vision, it cannot be restored anymore.
  • Uncorrected refractive errors – The refractive error is considered by the WHO as a “very common” disorder of the eye. It happens when a person cannot clearly focus the images of what he sees outside. It leads to blurred vision and could be severe and lead to visual impairment. There are four common refractive errors including myopia, astigmatism, hyperopia, and presbyopia. Based on the current data, an estimate of 153 million people globally have visual impairment due to uncorrected refractive errors.

How to take care of the eyes

As mentioned in the first part, the WHO considers 80 percent of the vision impairment cases as avoidable. WHO said that with the right interventions, eye diseases can be prevented and treated. For instance, eye diseases due to uncorrected refractive errors can be addressed using eyeglasses. Vision loss due to cataract can also be restored through eye surgery. Finally, there is vision rehabilitation that is an effective way of improving the situation of patients with permanent vision impairment.

To prevent visual impairment, patients should immediately seek medical attention for any symptom they may experience. Of course, a regular eye check-up is the best way to detect early symptoms of any eye disease. It also helps a lot for patients to learn more about their health condition. Remember, there are some diseases that manifest their symptoms through the eyes.  

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also very helpful. Smoking and drinking do not just affect the lungs, liver, heart, skin, and brain. It also affects the eyes. Alcohol intake also causes blurred vision and can lead to an accident. It is best for patients with substance use disorder to get into rehab for alcoholics to get proper treatment. Some eye problems are also caused by infections. Keeping one’s body and surroundings clean is a sure way to prevent the spread of infections.

Like other diseases, eye problems have greater chances of getting treated through early detection. Early detection will also be a significant effort to avoid vision loss that has affected millions of people around the globe.