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Blindness is caused in several different ways and affects millions of Americans annually. Going to an Ophthalmologist for an eye exam once a year is recommended for those over the age of 50, while it’s suggested that those under this age check-up every other year. Taking proper care of your eyes is crucial to preventing blindness in the future, but it’s also important to understand what causes it. Continue reading to find out how you can work to prevent blindness and take care of your eyes in the best way.

What Causes Blindness?

According to the CDC, 12 million Americans over the age of 40 encounter some type of vision impairment, with 1 million of them being legally blind. In order to qualify as such, you must have a visual acuity of 6/30 or less. Most causes of blindness come with age-related diseases or refractive errors that haven’t been corrected and cataracts. Understanding the differences between types of ocular diseases could help you avoid running into future problems.

Refractive Errors

These errors are the leading cause of vision impairment in the U.S. and can impact all ages, taking place when the shape of your eye disrupts the light entering the retina. You are more likely to run into a refractive error if you have family members who wear glasses or contacts. There are several types of refractive errors that you could experience.

  • Myopia (nearsightedness):

    This causes objects in the distance to appear fuzzy or blurred, while objects closer to you can be made out clearly. This can start anywhere between the ages of 6 and 14, and tends to progress throughout your teenage and young adult years. Myopia takes place when light cannot focus on the retina correctly and can be diagnosed during an eye exam, which is why it’s important to schedule one if you experience symptoms.

  • Hyperopia (farsightedness):

    Farsightedness is another refractive error that can be inherited. Unlike myopia, hyperopia is when closer objects appear blurry and farther ones appear clear. Light refracting behind the retina rather than onto it usually causes this to occur, and most children with this impairment find that it corrects itself by the time they’re adults.

  • Astigmatism:

    This tends to happen when the cornea is curved asymmetrically, in most cases like a football, and causes light to enter the eye unequally. When this takes place, you may find it difficult to make out objects both near and far. It can be present at birth and treated at a young age in a similar manner to the other refractive errors listed.

  • Presbyopia:

    With a bigger impact on those aged 45 and up, presbyopia affects the way you see things close up. As the eye ages, the lens loses its ability to focus light properly, which can cause headaches when reading, and many find themselves needing to purchase reading glasses at this time. Almost all adults eventually experience presbyopia, and this can be treated by holding things farther away from the face or using lights to assist you when reading or writing.

These refractive errors can occur with anyone but come with several prevention options. The most common way to treat them includes being prescribed glasses or contact lenses which can offer clearer vision when it’s most important. Surgery is also an option if you have blurry vision, with LASIK being the most common. This laser treatment tends to leave most patients with the ability to see clearly enough without using glasses or contact lenses, but it’s crucial to discuss this with your ophthalmologist first.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

This eye disorder tends to happen with aging and results in blurred central vision. The two types include wet AMD and dry AMD, both of which can impact normal activities and can often be unnoticeable for some time. Some factors that may heighten your risk of AMD include smoking and having family members who were diagnosed, as well. While there is currently no treatment for this disorder, getting the proper amount of physical activity and eating healthy foods could delay it from taking place.

Cataracts

This vision impairment is another that impacts people at an older age, usually over 65, and may be hard to notice at first. Common symptoms of cataracts include increasingly blurry vision, colors fading, and needing to change your glasses or contact lens prescription frequently. The tests your eye doctor may have you take for cataracts are normal and usually tend to be included in check-up appointments, making diagnosis relatively simple. Those with diabetes may experience this as a side effect which can lead to difficulty driving, reading, and making out the faces of others. Many people choose to have cataract surgery to prevent it from progressing over time, however, it’s important to talk with your doctor first to determine if and when this should take place.

Glaucoma

With a greater chance of blindness occurring, glaucoma is a risky disease that damages the optic nerve, normally because of high eye pressure. Most symptoms progress slowly, so seeing an eye doctor will ensure you catch them in time to avoid severe vision impairment like blindness. The first sign that many people experience tends to be a loss of peripheral vision, especially around your nose area. Procedures to lower your eye pressure can stall the disease for some time, but there is currently no known prevention for it. Discuss options like medicine, laser treatment, or surgery with your ophthalmologist to establish the right path you may need to take.

Diabetic Retinopathy (DR)

Diabetes leads to higher risks of visual impairment due to the damage high blood glucose levels can have on the blood vessels in your eye. Any feelings of pain or gradual blurring vision can be a sign that you should speak to your eye doctor, and potentially be screened. During the later stages of DR, you may start to see spots floating throughout your vision. The best way to decrease your risk of this happening is by managing your diabetes and maintaining a healthy diet with frequent physical activity. With 50% of the population having the tendency to wait too long before getting their eyes examined.

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