Most people shudder at the thought of loosing their ability to see. Vision impairment is a severely debilitating condition that affects over 14 million American adults, with more than 3.3 million of those aged 40 and over being classified as legally blind. As the population ages and diseases such as diabetes become rampant, the number of legally blind adults in the U.S. is projected to exceed 6 million by 2030.
Although these statistics can seem overwhelming, the good news is that in many cases, blindness can either be delayed or avoided altogether with a combination of prevention, early detection and treatment.
According to the National Eye Institute, the leading cause of blindness among older Americans is Age-Related Macular Degeneration or AMD. This condition causes a painless, gradual blurring of the central vision, affecting approximately 10 million people in the U.S. alone.
Cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and traumatic brain injury are also among the leading causes of severe vision loss and blindness among seniors, while vision loss among younger adults and children is frequently the result of an eye injury. Other causes of blindness include bacterial infections, retinal detatchment and brain injuries.
The first step in preventing blindness is understanding your personal risk factors. Healthy adults who are free of any vision problems should have a complete eye exam bi-annually to check for any developing conditions that may lead to vision problems. Many eye diseases can be successfully treated with early detection, making this the best way to protect your vision.
Along with regular eye checkups maintaining a healthy body weight is important to your vision health. The type-2 (also known as adult-onset) diabetes epidemic in America has led to an explosion of diabetic eye disease, a group of conditions which includes diabetic retinopathy, premature cataracts and early-onset glaucoma. By eating healthy foods, exercising regularly and reducing excess body weight you can minimize your risk of diabetes and in turn, reduce your risk of vision loss.
The American Academy of Opthamology (AAO) reports that each year in the U.S. over 2.5 million people suffer a preventable eye injury, with more than 50,000 resulting in a partial or full loss of vision. While many people assume that eye injuries are a workplace issue, nearly half of all the accidents that affect vision occur at home.
When working with any type of power tool including lawnmowers, saws, snowblowers and air compressors be sure to wear protective eyewear to help prevent injuries from flying objects and projectiles. It is also important to protect your eyes when hammering, chopping wood or using a hand sander as these activities can all result in fragments that can damage your eyes. Look for safety glasses that have been certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and when working with any type of chemical (including solvents, paints and lead-acid batteries) wear safety goggles that seal tightly to your face.
Athletes can prevent sports-related vision loss with the use of protective eyewear (such goggles for racket sports, or a visor for hockey) and while out trying to catch the big one, be sure to don your safety glasses since fishing is the leading cause of eye injuries in sport. Remember to wear UV-blocking sunglasses or goggles while outdoors, especially during water and snow sports.
While not all types of vision loss can be prevented entirely, by following these simple steps you can protect your sight while reducing your risk of blindness.