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Eye disease affects one-third over age 65

By age 65, one-third, and by age 80, one-half of all Americans will suffer from some form of eye disease.

Many will not know their eyes are in jeopardy until it is too late to prevent severe vision loss or blindness.

Since many diseases display no symptoms, the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology (MAO), eye M.D.s, recommend Minnesotans visit their doctors for eye exams regularly.

Scott Uttley, M.D., president of the Minnesota Academy of Ophthalmology (MAO) said, "Being over the age of 60 is a chief risk factor for many eye diseases; boomers are reaching the age when they should be alert to symptoms and should receive regular eye exams from an eye M.D. In many cases, vision loss or blindness is preventable if an individual receives treatment."

Knowing the risk for eye disease may prod boomers into making an appointment with an eye care specialist. MAO encourages consumers to be aware of the different educational levels of opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists.

Ophthalmologists, eye M.D.s, are the only eye care specialists who are graduates of medical school.

Three diseases will affect many boomers: cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Cataracts cause a clouding of the clear lens of the eye, resulting in decreased vision, but they are treatable with surgery.

More than 50 percent of Americans either have a cataract or have had one removed surgically by age 80. Age is the most common risk factor, but other factors increase risk: smoking, steroid use, a past eye injury, diabetes, prolonged exposure to sunlight, obesity, alcoholism, and a family history of cataracts.

For Caucasians 65 years of age and older, age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. It causes the macula, the small area in the retina at the back of the eye, to break down.

The disease affects your ability to see fine details clearly and to perform activities such as reading and driving. More than 10 million Americans now suffer from it. ??Dr. Uttley said, "Early diagnosis is important. Researchers are developing new treatments regularly for macular degeneration, and early treatment provides the greatest potential for avoiding blindness."

The two major risk factors for macular degeneration are an age of 60 years or older and a family history of the disease. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, and hypertension.

The third eye disease, glaucoma, results in damage to the optic nerve, the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. It is a leading cause of blindness, particularly for African Americans.

More than 2 million Americans suffer from it. This disease often produces no warning symptoms. Risk factors include an age of 60 years and older, a family history of glaucoma, African, Asian or Spanish ancestry, farsightedness or nearsightedness, past eye injuries, steroid use, and other health problems like diabetes or migraine headaches.