Key Health Conditions that Affect Your Eyes by Kristen Peterson, M.D.

October 3, 2019

Kristen Peterson, MD is an ophthalmologist at the Marietta Eye Clinic

While there are many health conditions which can affect eyesight or damage your eyes, there are three common health conditions we need to monitor closely. This article presents some important information on two very common medical conditions and informs you about a third health aspect you may not have considered. These conditions are diabetes, blood pressure, and the presence of eye disease in your family history.

Adults With Diabetes

First, for individuals who have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes mellitus, we recommend that you have a baseline complete dilated eye exam 5 years after your diagnosis with at least yearly exams thereafter. Second, individuals who develop type 2 diabetes mellitus should be examined at the time of diagnosis and at least every year thereafter. Lastly, women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes should receive a comprehensive eye examination before conception and then early in the first trimester of pregnancy. Recommended intervals for subsequent examinations depend upon the level of possible diabetic retinopathy.

Adults With High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, can cause progressive constriction of the arterioles in the eye and decreased blood flow to parts of the eye. While controlled hypertension usually does not result in visual complaints, it is a known risk factor in the progression of other eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy. Additionally, hypertension can also be a factor in the onset or progression of blocked veins and arteries in either the retina or nerve of the eye. Blocked veins and arteries may severely affect vision. If the blood pressure is very high it is called malignant hypertension, which can cause swelling of the macula or optic nerve and acute loss of vision. Discussions with your ophthalmologist will help you know how to best protect your sight and how frequently you need to see your eye doctor to prevent any permanent damage.

Adults With Family History of Eye Disease

If you have family members with eye disease, learn all you can about this history and share these details with your ophthalmologist to protect your eyes and your vision. Family history of a disease, including diseases of the eye and orbital area, could place you at a higher risk of developing those diseases as well. Glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye diseases can be genetic. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, having a family member with glaucoma makes you four to nine times more likely to develop this disease. Glaucoma is a serious condition and when left untreated leads to blindness.

According to the National Eye Institute, age-related macular degeneration is a leading cause of severe and irreversible vision loss in people over the age of 50. This disease involves the small central portion of the retina, known as the macula, which can result in blurry, distorted, or dark vision in the center of your visual field. Catching signs of this early are vital to maintaining the ability to see clearly.

Cataracts are a condition in which the natural lens of the eye becomes cloudy causing many visual symptoms including blurry vision, difficulty driving at night due to glare, and needing more light for daily activities such as reading. This is such a common condition that the National Eye Institute projects nearly 40 million Americans will have cataracts by the year 2030.

Knowledge and Prevention

You can see how important routine care is at all ages, and especially as we age, when certain health conditions exist. The board-certified ophthalmologists at the Marietta Eye Clinic and the American Academy of Ophthalmology encourage you to get to know your family history, know your own health status, and empower yourself to take control of keeping your eyes healthy throughout your entire life. We know vision plays such a critical part in maintaining your quality of life and regular exams can help to keep this intricate and complex part of your body healthy.

References and Additional Resources

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) (https://www.aao.org/eye-health) is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. They describe themselves as a “global community of 32,000 medical doctors who protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public.” Their website is a great resource to learn more about how to care for your eyes.

Ask Your Family About Their History of Eye Disease

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/family-reunions

Facts About Age-Related Macular Degeneration

https://nei.nih.gov/health/maculardegen/armd_facts

Cataracts Defined

https://nei.nih.gov/eyedata/cataract

How does high blood pressure affect vision?

https://www.aao.org/eye-health/ask-ophthalmologist-q/how-does-high-blood-pressure-affect-vision

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