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Vision Loss: Signs and Prevention

Editor's Note: Sara Bennett is an AEBC member and Associate Editor of this magazine. She is a freelance writer and holds Certification as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist.

The four main causes of blindness and partial sight in Canada are age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts. While two major risk factors for each are age and a family history of the eye condition, neither of which can be changed, there are steps you can take at any stage of life to help minimize, or even prevent, vision impairment caused by these diseases. Taking precautions, staying alert to vision changes and having routine eye exams, even when your vision is stable, are all crucial.

What should you be looking for? Any of the eye conditions listed above can progress to an advanced stage before symptoms appear; however, some signs of vision loss you might notice include:

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

  • The "dry" form progresses slowly and the "wet" form very quickly
  • Decreased central/fine-detail vision; needing more light or magnification when reading/sewing
  • Decreased colour perception, contrast sensitivity; difficulty matching clothes
  • Straight lines appear wavy, like the sides of buildings or telephone poles
  • Blurry/dark spot in centre of vision
  • Turning/tilting your head to use peripheral vision

Glaucoma

  • The "open-angle" form progresses slowly and the "closed-angle" form very quickly
  • Reduced peripheral vision; bumping into things, difficulty seeing in the dark
  • Reduced depth perception; stumbling on stairs, difficulty in sports
  • Reduced distance vision; missing street signs when driving
  • Turning your head to view things straight on

Diabetic Retinopathy

  • Blurry spots, floaters and/or flashing lights
  • Trouble adjusting to changes in light; going from a dim building into sunshine outside, or vice versa
  • Sensitivity to glare; difficulty reading a glossy magazine
  • Reduced night vision

Cataracts

  • Cloudy vision, like looking through a dirty window
  • Frequent changes to your eyeglass prescription
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Sensitivity to light and glare (see Diabetic Retinopathy above)

Now that you are aware of possible signs of vision impairment, here is a list of strategies to help minimize further vision loss, or even prevent it in the first place:

Avoid Eye Injuries

  • Hard blows, punctures, cuts, extreme heat or chemical burns can cause cataracts, retinal detachments, corneal scarring and more
  • Protect eyes, such as by wearing safety goggles, during sports, home repairs and other possibly "dangerous" activities
  • If working with chemicals, make sure the area is well ventillated

Reduce Sunlight Exposure

  • Protects retina and reduces risk of cataracts and AMD
  • Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection, even in the winter

Quit Smoking

  • Lighting up is a risk factor for AMD
  • Quitting or even reducing the amount of smoking decreases the chance of developing cataracts and, if you're a diabetic, diabetic retinopathy

Limit Alcohol Use

  • Heavy drinking increases risk of cataracts

Improve Diet/Maintain A Healthy Weight

  • Reduces risk of developing diabetes
  • To reduce risk of AMD, avoid foods rich in unsaturated fats, highly processed or refined foods, and increase intake of whole grains, foods high in omega-3s, fresh fruits and dark green leafy vegetables

Reduce Risk/Manage Diabetes

  • Diabetes increases risk of many vision conditions, like retinopathy
  • If you already have diabetes, managing it reduces risk of getting diabetic retinopathy

Visit the Eye Doctor

  • Routine eye exams, even when your vision appears fine, can detect early stages of eye conditions
  • Early detection is essential for treating eye disease and minimizing vision loss
  • Some eye conditions, if caught early enough, can be corrected/treated with glasses, medication or surgery
  • Visiting the eye doctor regularly is also vital because vision changes may indicate the presence of another, possibly more serious health condition

While the possibility, or reality, of vision impairment might seem overwhelming and even scary, you can be proactive in preventing or minimizing it. You can also take steps to inform yourself about the many resources and services that are available to ease the transition and assist you in continuing to live your life--as someone with limited sight. The good news is that you, or someone you know with restricted vision, can work, play, socialize and achieve as much as you did before--just a bit differently.

While I've tried to concentrate on the most prevalent eye conditions, symptoms and preventative strategies here, space did not permit a more thorough look at any, or at conditions specific to children, for example. I encourage readers to check out the resources below for further information.

Resources

Insight eNewsletter: http://www.cnib.ca/en/about/publications/newsletters/insight/default.aspx#contentstartshere

Your Eyes: http://cnibsecure.cnib.ca/site/R?i=DUL0yXhsDTIoihA7hSgQfQ

AMD Alliance International: http://www.amdalliance.org/

Foundation Fighting Blindness: http://www.ffb.ca/index.html

Glaucoma Research Foundation: http://www.glaucoma.org

Canadian Association of Optometrists: http://www.opto.ca/en/public/site_map.asp

Canadian Ophthalmological Society: http://www.eyesite.ca/english/public- information/index.htm

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