Retinal conditions, including diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and diabetic retinopathy, are among the leading causes of blindness and low vision in the U.S., yet they represent an unseen threat for millions of older Americans who are not aware of the symptoms and risk factors, according to a nationwide survey commissioned by the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS).
During September’s Healthy Aging Month, America’s retina specialists urge the public to learn the signs and symptoms of retinal conditions that are more common with age, adopt healthy habits that protect sight, and seek care immediately if they experience sudden changes in vision rather than delaying care during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could lead to vision loss.
“We urge the public to learn the signs and symptoms of retinal disease, and to seek care immediately if they experience sudden changes in vision,” said ASRS President Timothy G. Murray, MD, MBA. “Simply put, delaying care leads to vision loss. We are seeing this clearly among patients who are delaying care due to COVID-19 and experiencing measurable vision loss.”
One of the most common retinal conditions is AMD, which affects 11 million Americans. It is the leading cause of vision loss among older Americans, yet few know the basics about this sight stealing condition.
Of those surveyed, more than 2 in 5 (43%) did not identify gradual or sudden loss of central vision as a symptom of AMD. And nearly half (47%) incorrectly think AMD causes flashing lights or floaters. In fact, in the early stages, AMD may have no symptoms at all. Hallmark symptoms of AMD include distortion (warping) of straight lines; a decrease in the intensity or brightness of colors; a gradual or sudden loss of central vision; and dark, blurry areas in the center of vision.
On top of not understanding symptoms of AMD, many do not fully appreciate the common risk factors. Only about a fifth (21%) correctly identified obesity as a risk factor, and only 1 in 10 (10%) correctly identified that eating too few fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of AMD. Other risk factors include age (the older you are the greater your risk), history of smoking, family history, being Caucasian or of European ancestry and high blood pressure.
Another retinal condition, diabetic retinopathy, is the leading cause of blindness in U.S. working-age adults. The condition affects 7.7 million Americans and that number is expected to double by 2050. Even so, the public is unsure of diabetic retinopathy symptoms. Fewer than half of adults 40+ (47%) correctly identified blurry central vision as a symptom of diabetic retinopathy and only 37% identified seeing spots or floaters as a symptom. Other symptoms to be aware of that can occur in one or both eyes are a shadow across the field of vision, difficulty reading, eye pressure and difficulty with color perception.
Some risk factors for diabetic retinopathy are well known, such as having Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes. And the longer you have diabetes, the greater the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Yet nearly two-thirds (64%) of those polled did not identify high cholesterol as a risk factor for diabetic retinopathy and nearly half (48%) did not identify high blood pressure. Other factors that increase risk are kidney disease, pregnancy, a history of smoking and poor control of blood sugar levels over time.
Retina specialists encourage consumers of all ages to take steps to maintain healthy retinas and reduce the risk of developing retinal conditions including:
- Quitting smoking
- Staying active
- Controlling blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol
- Eating nutritious food including dark, leafy greens and fish
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Getting regular dilated retina exams
The public can test their knowledge of healthy habits that support good vision by taking ASRS’s Healthy Sight for a Lifetime Quiz here: bit.ly/ASRSQUIZ.
For more information about maintaining retina health for good vision, visit asrs.org/retinahealthseries.