Optimized iStock 676633894 300x200 Be Wise About Your EyesEye-related diseases are more common than you think- and clear-cut symptoms rarely show, until it’s too late. We’re often told to expect the unexpected, but how can we see the unseen danger? In light of May as Healthy Vision Month, it is crucial to understand the reasons behind the diseases that can lead to vision loss and blindness.

Our eyes work hard day-in and day-out, but most people have no idea what is actually going on behind the lens. Eye awareness and care are crucial to keeping high-quality eyesight. Unsurprisingly, when we don’t take proper care of our eyes, they begin to reflect the neglect.

According to a 2017 global study published in The Lancet by The Vision Loss Expert Group (VLEG), 36 million people were blind and 216.6 million were visually impaired in 2015. Vision loss and blindness can result from various eye-diseases, but there are four that remain most prevalent. According to the report, approximately 8.4 million individuals have advanced age-related macular degeneration, 6.9 million have glaucoma, 2.6 million have diabetic retinopathy, and 65.2 million have cataracts. If these statistics and terms make your eyes widen in confusion, you’re not alone. Let’s delve into what each really means.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) occurs when the central layer of the retina, called the macula, deteriorates. The macula controls our ability to read, drive, recognize faces and fine details. AMD only affects the center of your eyes, so your peripheral (or side) vision is unharmed. However, this disease is progressive- it gets worse over time, and it is currently untreatable. It is most often seen in Caucasians over 50 years old and regular smokers.

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve, which is how the brain gets visual information from your eyes. Most often, glaucoma is caused by increased pressure inside your eye, but there aren’t many symptoms. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, and as you age, your risk increases. People of color have an even higher risk of developing this disease, as well as those with existing eye issues like chronic inflammation.

Diabetic Retinopathy, like the name suggests, is due to diabetes or high blood sugar levels. The excess sugar is actually responsible for damaging the blood vessels in the retina. When left untreated, it is one of the most common causes of blindness in the United States. There are varying degrees and types, but symptoms remain the same: seeing dark spots, blurred vision, loss of vision, difficulty seeing at night, and difficulty seeing colors. It is crucial to moderate blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol especially when diabetic.

Cataracts are dense, cloudy areas that develop over time in the lens of the eye. This is the result of proteins clumping together and interfering with the processing of light by the retina. Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes and are most common in older people, but sometimes even babies are born with them. Types of cataracts are categorized by where and how they develop. It is estimated that at least half of Americans receive surgery for cataracts by the time they are 80 years old. Risk factors include, but are not limited to exposure to radiation, UV rays, obesity, smoking, and long-term steroid use.

It is predicted that by 2020, the number of individuals with severe vision loss and blindness will increase substantially worldwide. The VLEG report also states that the causes behind 77% of vision loss and 55% of blindness can be prevented with surgery and/or glasses. The majority of people fear going blind more than they fear losing a limb or getting cancer (the American Foundation for the Blind), so why is vision loss rising rampantly?

Don’t let a lack of symptoms fool you- see the unseen danger. The only way to screen for early signs of age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts, is to visit an eye doctor. Take the necessary precautions and be wise when it comes to your eyes. A healthy lifestyle and a yearly eye exam can do a world of difference – let’s open our eyes… after all, they’re worth it.