Doctor discusses vision care with group

Published 2:25 pm Friday, April 22, 2011

The gift of sight is a precious one, but all too often, it’s a gift women take for granted, says Dr. Caleb Gardner.

“Two-thirds of the 37 million blind people around the world are women,” said Gardner, optometrist for Gardner Eye Care in Greenville and guest speaker at the latest L.V. Stabler Healthy Woman program.

“And 700,000 of one million people classified as legally blind in the U.S. are women.”

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According to Gardner, there are several reasons the numbers are higher for women.

“Women typically live longer, and the older you are, the higher the chance you’ll develop an eye disease. They are often primary caretakers and exposed to certain illnesses which can cause infections that result in diseased eyes,” Garden explained.

Gardner discussed the four most common diseases/conditions that cause blindness in women: cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

“Cataracts is a gradual lack of transparency in the lens of the eye, which causes blurred vision, changes in color vision and problems driving at night,” Gardner said.

“Everyone who lives long enough will develop cataracts at some point. The good news is cataract surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with a plastic lens implant is the most commonly performed surgery in the U.S.”

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the nation, with risk factors for cataracts including old age, exposure to sunlight, smoking, diabetes, and steroid use.

Another condition that frequently strikes the elderly is macular degeneration, with one out of 10 people in the U.S. developing it.

“Because of the dying tissue in the eye’s macula, a person with MD still has peripheral vision, but there’s a dark spot in the center of what they see,” Gardner said.

Along with age and exposure to sunlight, risk factors for macular degeneration include blue eyes and a fair complexion, family history and smoking.

“There are so many things that can go wrong with the body due to smoking, beyond cancer,” Gardner noted.

“So if you do smoke, I would encourage you to stop for many reasons.”

Treatment for MD includes special vitamins to halt advance of the “dry” form of the condition and injections to prevent retinal bleeding in the “wet” form.

Diabetic retinopathy is actually the leading cause of blindness in the working-aged population, Gardner said.

“It’s very important that diabetics keep their blood sugar under control along with the high blood pressure that often goes along with diabetes. And the longer the person lives with diabetes, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy,” Gardner explained.

“Often, there are no symptoms until the damage to the eyes is severe.”

Diabetics should get a dilated eye exam at least once a year, Gardner said, in order to catch the condition in its early stages. Laser surgery and special injections can slow or stop vision loss, but there is no cure for the condition.

“Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases which affect the optic nerve, leading to vision loss,” Gardner explained.

According to the doctor, age is again a risk factor, as is race, steroid use, previous eye injuries and a family history of glaucoma.

“Glaucoma is called the ‘silent thief of vision’ because many people have no idea there is a problem until they go for a routine eye exam,” Gardner said. “Over time it causes tunnel vision, with the patient losing their peripheral vision-the opposite of what macular degeneration does.”

Special eye drops can help keep the all-important intraocular eye pressure (IOP) at a safe level. In some severe cases, surgical intervention may be needed by glaucoma patients.

“Getting regular eye exams and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in maintaining good vision,” Gardner said.