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Macular degeneration and glaucoma can be treated if caught early, so get to know these surprising signs that something could be wrong.
Plenty of health problems come with glaring red flags. Eye-health issues, on the other hand, tend to creep up quietly — and often, they aren’t spotted until it’s too late to undo the damage.
That’s why it’s so important to visit an eye doctor regularly: Two of the leading causes of vision loss in the U.S. are age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma. Both conditions, if caught early enough, can usually be treated before permanent eye damage and blindness occur. Unfortunately, only about half of the people who are at serious risk for vision loss have visited an eye doctor in the past year.
Don’t let that be you — be on the alert for these sometimes-subtle symptoms:
Signs You Could Have Age-Related Macular Degeneration
AMD occurs when your macula — the small area in the center of the retina — becomes damaged, causing central vision loss.
“The macula is the part of the eye that gives you 20/20 vision,” says Lyndon Wong, O.D., an optometrist with North Carolina Primary Vision Care Associates, inside America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Some eye-health symptoms might not seem too serious at first but could signal AMD. Talk to your eye doctor if ...
1. Objects directly ahead of you look a little blurry
You might be tempted to chalk up fuzzy vision to getting older. But if objects in your direct line of sight appear blurred even though you already wear glasses (and don’t have cataracts), it could be a sign of a form of AMD known as dry AMD, says Dr. Wong.
About 70 to 90 percent of people with AMD have the dry form (as opposed to wet AMD), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s when the macula gets thinner, causing gradual loss of vision.
Left untreated, that blurry area could get bigger or turn into blank spots. People who have AMD may have trouble reading, recognizing faces, or driving a car.
2. Straight lines are starting to look wavy
If straight lines appear to bend or get wavy, that could be a sign of more advanced dry AMD, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI).
Or it could point toward wet AMD. Wet AMD is less common than dry — but is more severe and requires urgent action. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow behind the eye and leak fluid, which can cause a total loss of central vision (though you’ll still have peripheral vision, the ability to see things off to the side). If you notice this symptom, call your eye doctor right away.
Signs You Could Be Developing Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a group of conditions that all involve damage to the optic nerve in your eye, which can lead to loss of vision — sometimes even blindness. What’s more, about half of people who have glaucoma don’t realize it. That’s why it pays to have an eye doctor regularly check your eye health. And keep these early signs in mind:
1. You can’t see things to the side very well
If you’ve noticed that you’re having trouble seeing objects out of the corner of your eye — such as a car in the lane next to you — that could be a sign of open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common type, accounting for up to 90 percent of people in the U.S. with glaucoma. It’s a chronic condition where fluids build up and put pressure on the optic nerve in the back of the eye. The damage can eventually lead to vision loss, according to the NEI.
Like AMD, glaucoma may not have any symptoms at first. But as the disease progresses, you may notice that more and more of your eyesight is starting to fade.
2. One of your eyes is suddenly red and painful
Sometimes what seems like a classic case of pink eye is in fact way more serious, says Matthew Houck, O.D., an optometrist in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who also works with America’s Best. Instead, the eye redness, intense eye pain, and blurry vision could be symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma, a less common form in which fluid in the eye builds up quickly enough to cause blindness in a few days, according to the NEI.
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, go to the emergency room right away. There, a doctor will likely use a laser or give you medication that can help drain the fluid, relieving the pressure and protecting your vision.
Even if you’re being vigilant for vision changes, keep in mind that both glaucoma and dry AMD sometimes have no symptoms at all. But they can be spotted by your eye doctor as part of a routine comprehensive eye exam. Your doctor will check your pupils, peripheral (side) vision, eye pressure, and more. Schedule your checkup now if you haven’t had one in a while, and make sure it’s on your calendar every year.