2013 Healthy Vision Month Highlights

Doctor giving performing eye exam

Your Vision: Make It Last a Lifetime

May is Healthy Vision Month and CDC’s Vision Health Initiative (VHI) partners with the National Eye Institute to encourage all Americans to make vision a health priority.

Quick Facts:

  • Vision impairment becomes more common as people age.
  • Women, minority groups, and people with chronic diseases like diabetes may be at higher risk for having vision impairment.
  • The number of Americans 40 years and older with diabetic retinopathy and vision threatening retinopathy will triple in 2050; from 5.5 million to 16 million and from 1.2 million to 3.4 million respectively.
  • While some eye conditions, like cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration, can cause vision loss and even blindness, others, such as refractive errors, are common problems that can be easily corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

It’s important to take care of your eyes. Poor vision makes it harder to read, drive, and cook. The good news – many eye problems and diseases can be treated if caught early. To make sure you keep seeing clearly, get a comprehensive dilated eye exam regularly. If you haven’t had an exam for some time, schedule one this month. An eye care professional will examine your eyes for signs of vision problems or eye diseases. It’s the best way to find out if you need glasses or contacts, or are in the early stages of a serious but treatable eye disease.

What to Expect From a Dilated Eye ExamExternal

  • Your eye care professional will place drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil to allow more light to enter the eye—the same way an open door lets more light into a dark room.
  • This process offers a good look at the back of the eyes, so they can be examined for any signs of damage or disease.
  • Your close-up vision may remain blurry for a few hours after the exam.

Nine Ways to Help Protect Your Vision

The best option is to keep your eyes as healthy as possible throughout your lifetime.

  1. Get regular comprehensive dilated eye exams, as recommended by your health care provider.
  2. Know your family’s eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease or condition, since many are hereditary.
  3. Eat right to protect your sight—in particular, eat plenty of dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens, and fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, albacore tuna, trout and halibut.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight.
  5. Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home such as painting, yard work and home repairs.
  6. Quit smoking or never start.
  7. Wear sunglasses that block 99% – 100% of ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
  8. lean your hands prior to taking out contacts and be sure to cleanse your contact lenses properly to avoid the risk of infection.
  9. Practice workplace eye safety.

Children and Vision Problems

Photo: three young people

Although most Americans who have vision problems are 65 years of age or older, even preschoolers may not see as well as they should. Young children may be nearsighted, which means distant objects look blurred. Eyeglasses or contact lenses can correct nearsightedness and help people see better.

Another cause of vision problems in young children is amblyopia, which affects 2%–4% of preschoolers. Amblyopia, also called lazy eye, is poor vision in one eye that is otherwise physically normal. Treatment for amblyopia includes finding the condition early, and using a patch or eye drops to give the stronger eye a rest and to strengthen the weaker eye.

Just one out of every seven preschoolers receives an eye exam, and fewer than one out of every four receives some type of vision screening. Because finding amblyopia early is important for treating it effectively, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends vision screening for amblyopia and its risk factors for all children aged three to five years.

Vision Challenges for Adults

Photo: older adult using a chainsaw

For older Americans, vision loss usually comes from diseases tied to aging, including macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. A dilated eye exam is the only way to find these diseases in the early stages, and it will also find vision problems that can be corrected, such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia, in which eyes gradually lose the ability to focus on close objects, such as the text in a newspaper. An estimated 11 million Americans aged 12 years and older could see better through measures including reading glasses, contact lenses, or eye surgery.

Taking care of your eyes also may benefit your overall health. People with vision problems are more likely than those with good vision to have diabetes, poor hearing, heart problems, high blood pressure, lower back pain, and stroke, as well as have increased risk for falls, injury and depression. Among people aged 65 years and older, 54.2% of those who are blind and 41.7% of those with impaired vision say their overall health is fair or poor. Just 21.5% of older Americans without vision problems reported fair to poor health.

Visit an Eye Care Professional if…

You have

  • Decreased vision.
  • Eye pain.
  • Drainage or redness of the eye.
  • Double vision.
  • Diabetes.

Or see

  • Flashes of light.
  • Floaters (tiny specks that appear to float before your eyes).
  • Circles, or halos, around light sources.

Diabetes and Eye Damage

People with diabetes often develop eye problems, so if you have diabetes, it is especially important to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year. The exam will check for a disease called diabetic retinopathy, which is the leading cause of blindness in adults. Diabetic retinopathy is a common complication of diabetes and causes gradual damage to small blood vessels in the retina, the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that is needed for good vision. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk of vision loss.

It’s important for both your vision and overall health to control blood sugar (glucose) levels and to maintain your blood pressure and cholesterol at recommended levelsExternal.

CDC’s Vision Health Initiative team works with partners to implement a public health framework that promotes vision health and quality of life for all populations, through all life stages, by preventing and controlling eye diseases, eye injury, and vision loss resulting in disability. The initiative is located in CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation.

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