“Don’t play with it or you’ll go blind!"
Anybody else remember your mom telling you that when you were a little boy?! Well according to the CDC more than 3.3 million people over 40 years old are legally blind or have low vision (best corrected visual acuity of <20/40). That’s a lot of you guys out there that put your hands where they didn’t need to be!
Of course I’m just joking around. However, vision loss and blindness are no laughing matter. As a matter of fact approximately 61 million Americans are estimated to be at “high risk” for serious vision loss. The National Eye Institute provided prevalence rates among men and women here in the U.S. in 2010 and found that we dudes represent 36% of all types of vision impairments.
Dr Kimberly Cockeran, MD and Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Stanford University told "Men’s Health”, “I’m seeing more vision trouble with younger guys these days.” Causes of the visual problems include diabetes, poor nutrition, stress, obesity and even the blue light from increased use of cellphones, laptops and other personal digital devices.
I could peck this keyboard for hours listing and describing all the many various types of vision disorders, but instead I want to hone in on the big 5 which include age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts and refractive errors. These specific eye problems represent the majority of issues we men are suffering from. So let’s dive in starting with refractive errors.
You might not know exactly what’s meant by the term “refractive error” but I’m sure you’ve heard the words ‘near-sightedness’ (aka myopia) and ‘far-sightedness’ (aka hyperopia). These are but just two of the 4 refractive eye disorders. The other two being astigmatism and presbyopia. Astigmatism being an issue where the vision is distorted, while presbyopia is where you can’t focus up close.
Presbyopia often occurs between ages of 40-50. If you’ve never had visual problems and you begin having to squint when reading a book or the words on your devices, chances are you might be beginning to experience presbyopia. The good news is that refractive errors can usually be corrected with eyeglasses and even corrective surgery. The National Eye Institute has asserted that over 11 million Americans 12 years and older could greatly benefit from refractive correction.
Now we’ve ALL heard of glaucoma. I remember when I first saw Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Rush Hour. You know the scene. Chris Tucker (police officer) goes into a bar and sees a man smoking a joint, takes the joint and says “You better have glaucoma!” Of course the guy didn’t have glaucoma, but it does make you aware that glaucoma must be really painful for marijuana to be a medicinal treatment. As a matter of fact, it can be very painful.
Glaucoma is actually a group of disorders whereby damage occurs to the optic nerve and sometimes causes the fluid pressure inside the eye to increase. This often times causes excruciating and unrelenting pain. Recently, though, it’s been discovered that glaucoma can occur even without increased fluid pressure.
The two different types of glaucoma include open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma occurs slowly over time and can often times be overlooked (excuse the pun) until it’s so advanced that the damage has already been done to the optic nerve. Whereas
Closed angle glaucoma is an acute situation and can happen suddenly. This results in the terrible pain described above. Because of the pain associated with closed angle glaucoma, people usually get to the doctor right away before severe optic nerve damage occurs.
There are a number of treatments that can be performed to help with the situation, depending on what the exact structural cause of the glaucoma is found to be.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the number one cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine vision among people 65 years or greater. That being said, I’m sure you can surmise that its an age-related disorder. What happens in AMD is central and sharp vision loss. If you want to know what this feels like, look at something really bright for just a second. Then turn and try to focus on something in a darker area. Do you still see the light you were just previously looking at? It kind of obstructs the object you’re now focusing on. Well, imagine that being your vision ALL THE TIME. It would be maddening wouldn’t it?
There are actually two types of AMD; wet and dry. Wet AMD is when abnormal vessels begin to grown under the macula in the back of the eye. This eventually leads to blood and fluid to leaking into the eye and eventually scarring. Wet AMD happens acutely and gets worse very quickly. You’ll know if you have Wet AMD if straight lines appear bent or curvy. This type of AMD only occurs in about 10% of the cases.
Dry AMD on the other hand occurs over time as part of the aging process, gradually impairing central vision. It is the result of thinning of the macula. Dry AMD affects both eyes. An early sign of Dry AMD is something called ‘drusen’. Drusen are tiny white or yellow deposits under the retina. There is no cure for AMD, but early detection can prevent or slow progression.
Nobody is exactly clear on why AMD occurs but it is thought to be related to a genetic predisposition or oxidative stress. Unfortunately there’s not too much you can do for AMD other than surgically implanting a telescopic lens into the eyes, which doesn’t completely fix the issue, but does help a little.
A cataract is the clouding up of the eye’s lens and is the number 1 cause of blindness worldwide. It’s actually estimated that 20.5 million people in the U.S. older than 40 have at least 1 cataract and is projected to leap to 30 million by 2020.
The good news is that cataracts can be corrected. Unfortunately many people aren’t able to do anything about it due to the treatment costs, lack of insurance coverage, or the lack of awareness. Some people actually elect not to have the surgery due to their own choice, according to the CDC.
Although cataracts are the number 1 cause of blindness worldwide, diabetic retinopathy is the number 1 cause of blindness in America. To be clear, it’s the leading cause of blindness in people 20-74 years old.
It’s caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina in those with diabetes. This being said, you could put it this way. Diabetes is the number 1 cause of blindness in the U.S. This is quite unfortunate because type 2 diabetes is a preventable disease and brought about by lifestyle factors. (Please look for my upcoming blog post on type II diabetes).
Diabetic retinopathy has 4 stages:
Mild Proliferative Retinopathy-microaneurysms
Moderate Proliferative Retinopathy-blockage in some retinal vessels
Severe Proliferative Retinopathy-More vessels blocked leading to deprived retinal blood supply, leading to growing new vessels
Proliferative Retinopathy-most advanced stage where the bleeding vessels eventually form scar tissue which shrinks the tissue tearing the retina causing blindness
Treatment begins with prevention. Good control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol reduces the risk of diabetic retinopathy.
Well that’s it guys, the big 5. If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, our eyesight is worth so much more. I’m going to include some tips below to help you in protecting those eyes of yours. We take our vision for granted, don’t we. It’s one of the best things in the world to gaze into the eyes of the one you love, to look at our beautiful world and all there is to see. I would be so devastated if I couldn’t see or watch my children and one day my grandchildren as they play, grow, and achieve. I wish for all of you a bright future.
My top 10 tips for vision health
Eat a diet high in fatty fish, green leafy vegetables and fruits
Don’t read objects too close to your face
Give your eyes a rest. Practice the 20-20-20 rule=Every 20 minutes look at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds
When looking at your cellphone or computer don’t hold it any closer than 16 inches and increase your font sizes
Stay active and reduce your waist circumference
See a doctor IMMEDIATELY if you notice any changes in vision
Practice stress-reducing techniques. This lowers cortisol levels, which have been linked to retinopathy.
Wear UV protective lenses when out in the sun
Have regular physical exams to test for hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol
"Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees."
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Time is our most precious asset and we can never get it back. I hope this has been valuable to you. If you think it could benefit someone from reading it, I’d love it if you’d share it with them.