YES! There are many eye diseases that can cause irreparable damage long before we notice any changes in vision. Many eye diseases occur without any pain whatsoever. In this month’s article I will address just a couple of these diseases.
While there are several types of glaucoma, the most common types open angle and low tension glaucoma can start damaging your optic nerve long before you notice any changes in your vision. As a matter of fact if you are noticing the vision changes associated with glaucoma, the disease process is more than likely very advanced. These two types of glaucoma do not typically have any pain associated with them. Our bodies tend to adapt to slow changes. With open angle glaucoma you can develop high intraocular pressure which damages the optic nerve; but because it occurs slowly over time, it does not cause pain. With low tension glaucoma the intraocular pressure does not have to become very elevated to cause damage. Some people are more susceptible to optic nerve damage with what would for most people be considered a normal intraocular pressure or even low pressure.
Glaucoma is about more than just eye pressure. There are many ways to treat Glaucoma. We have lasers, drops and surgery as methods for controlling your eye pressure. Because there is no pain associated with these types of glaucoma, strict compliance with medication prescribed and routine follow-up care is absolutely necessary. This disease also requires careful monitoring for changes in the health of the optic nerve, your peripheral vision as well as the amount of healthy retinal nerve fiber around the optic nerve which is compared regularly to previous visits.
Macular Degeneration. These two words strike absolute fear in people of a certain age. Those of you who have family or friends with this disease know how devastating it can be to a person’s vision. But more than that it robs people of their sense of independence. Tell someone they have this disease and the first thing they worry about is can I still drive, how long I will be able to drive and will I go completely blind. Unfortunately there is no definite answer we can give because each person who suffers from this disease is affected differently.
There are two forms of Macular Degeneration–wet and dry neither of which have any pain associated with them. While wet macular degeneration causes faster vision loss there are treatments which can sometimes reverse or prevent further loss of vision. The dry form which causes vision loss to occur on a much slower basis unfortunately has no definitive treatment at this time. There are vitamins to improve the overall health of the macula and studies have shown this MAY slow the disease process but it has not been clinically proven. It is still highly recommended you use an AREDS formula vitamin to do as much as you can to keep the macula healthy. Also recommended is a diet rich in omega 3’s, greens, leafy vegetables and fruit with highly pigmented skin you can eat such as blackberries, blueberries and plums.
I have researched many of the vitamins on the market as well as the manufacturers and have selected a vitamin I feel has the most beneficial ingredients for those affected with macular degeneration. I carry this vitamin in my office at a reasonable price.
With macular degeneration we can often have a very large defect in our vision in one eye; but because we see clearly from the other eye, our brain will ignore the defective image and therefore you may not notice the defect unless you have reason to close the opposing eye. When you come to have your eyes checked we will occlude one eye making each eye work independently. This allows us to pick up on changes you may have even been aware of.
Once a diagnosis of macular degeneration has been made you should be evaluated on a regular basis. The earlier changes are established the better chance we have of preserving your vision. Here are a number of tests which help us to find early changes in the retina. While I assure you it is never pleasant to have to tell someone they should no longer be driving it is sometimes necessary. We become very comfortable in our usual surroundings that gives us a sense of familiarity and safety which can give the illusion that we see just fine to drive to the grocery store or church when in fact you are not “seeing” things the way you should be you just know from routine and habit where things are and how to get there.
So while it may not seem as if there have been any changes in your eyes or your eyesight you still need to have your eyes checked on a routine basis. If you have a family history, meaning any blood relative who has a particular eye disease you should be even more diligent about your eye care. If you think something is strange with your vision, please contact your eye doctor to discuss the changes when they occur. I urge you not to wait a few days to see if it will clear up on its own. While pain, redness, itching watering or burning are all good reasons to see your eye doctor as outlined in this article, we cannot wait for those symptoms to be the driving force for having your eyes checked.
Please feel free to contact my office to set up an appointment if it has been a year or more or if you have a family history of any eye disease. Also if you are suffering from any medical conditions such as High blood pressure, Thyroid disease, High Cholesterol, Diabetes or Heart Disease. All of these diseases can have an impact on the health of your eyes as well as many others.