Diabetic retinopathy is the most common eye disease in the United States and is a leading cause of blindness. Age-related macular degeneration, as the name implies, occurs with increasing age. Deposits of a material called drusen and abnormal blood vessel growth cause deterioration of a small area in the retina called the macula, which is necessary for sharp central vision. Glaucoma damages the optic (eye) nerve and can cause blindness. Other eye diseases or conditions include crossed eyes, cataracts, and lazy eye.
Some eye diseases are readily apparent. When a child has crossed eyes, for example, the condition can be seen even by the lay person. Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye. Others, like glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy, may not have obvious signs until they begin to affect vision. A dilated eye exam is usually the best way to diagnose eye diseases like glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration. Regular eye exams are the best way to identify problems early.
Treatment depends on the disease. Glaucoma raises the pressure inside the eyeball, so treatment with eye drops, pills or surgery is aimed at reducing pressure. Cataracts can be surgically removed. Macular degeneration can't really be treated or cured, but there is evidence that the progression of the disease can be slowed by some treatments. Eye infections may be treated with anti- viral medications or antibiotics, and eye drops to reduce pain or redness.
Staying healthy is one good way to protect the eyes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness because it causes diabetic retinopathy. People should maintain a healthy weight, limit sugar, and processed carbohydrates, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Regular exercise helps keep weight under control and promotes good circulation. Sunglasses protect the eyes from UV light. Smoking increases the risk of several chronic eye diseases.
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