In Focus: Vision Loss Can Go Unnoticed
Seeing Isn't Always Believing
If you were losing your vision, chances are you may not even know it. In fact, vision loss sometimes happens so gradually that you may not recognize you have a problem until it's well advanced.
Many eye diseases progress so slowly that you adapt to changes in your vision without even realizing it. It's only when you visit your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) for an eye exam that the full extent of the damage becomes clear.
Several diseases can cause gradual vision loss. Chief among them is glaucoma. Glaucoma is often called the sneak thief of sight because it can slowly steal vision without you being aware of what's happening. With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms.
Over time, however, you begin to lose peripheral (side) vision. Many people don't even notice this gradual vision loss. They unconsciously make up for it by turning their head from side to side to complete their field of vision. An estimated half of the 2.2 million Americans with glaucoma do not know they have the disease. Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent, which is why it is important to be checked regularly by your Eye M.D. if you have any of the risk factors for glaucoma.
Glaucoma is not the only eye disease that can cause gradual vision loss. If you have a cataract, your vision can also worsen slowly over time. A cataract happens when your eye's lens becomes cloudy. The lens must be clear in order to focus light properly onto the retina. As a cataract slowly begins to develop, you may not notice any changes in your vision at first. Eventually, however, you will notice your vision is blurry, cloudy or dim. Fortunately, cataract surgery can correct the vision loss.
Other eye diseases that can cause gradual vision loss that you may not notice include diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration.
The earlier an eye disease is detected and treated, the better it can be managed. That's why you should have a baseline eye exam at age 40, when many of these diseases begin to appear. If you have risk factors for these diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye disease, see your Eye M.D. to determine how often your eyes should be examined.