Eye diseases sound scary — and they absolutely can be. That’s why it’s so important to protect your vision by educating yourself about what types of eye diseases exist, to know your risk factors, and to get regular eye exams. 

Here’s everything you need to know about three common diseases of the eye, along with symptoms you should watch for. 

 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

 

What it is: 

AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in the U.S., and it’s estimated that more than 2 million people in the country have AMD. Like many eye conditions, this one is associated with aging and affects your central vision, which you use for everyday tasks like driving and reading. 

AMD destroys the macula, which is the central part of the retina that allows you to see fine details. There are two types: Dry and wet. 

Dry AMD is more common, accounting for 70% to 90% of cases and affecting both eyes. It happens when the macula thins as part of the normal aging process, gradually degrading central vision. Dry AMD can progress to wet AMD. 

Wet AMD results in more sudden and rapid central vision loss. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels start to develop under the macula, and is characterized by vision loss caused by bleeding, leaking, and scarring from those abnormal blood vessels. 

Risk factors and symptoms: 

AMD typically affects white American adults aged 50 and older, and the likelihood increases with age. You could also be at risk if you have a family history of the disease, you’re obese, or have cardiovascular disease. 

Symptoms of wet AMD include distorted vision (such as straight lines that appear wavy), decreased ability to see color, reduced central vision, hazy vision, or a blurry or blind spot in your field of vision. 

In dry AMD, you may have some or all of the symptoms of wet AMD, along with these additional symptoms: an increased need for brighter light when you’re reading or doing “up close” work, words that appear blurry, and difficulty recognizing faces. 

Prevention tips: 

Don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet that includes whole fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and fish. 

 

Diabetic Retinopathy

 

What it is: 

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness for adults in the U.S. and affects nearly 8 million people. It occurs when there is too much sugar in the blood, leading to a blockage of the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina, and cutting off its blood supply. New blood vessels develop to supply the retina, but because they don’t develop properly, they can leak easily. 

There are two types of diabetic retinopathy: early and advanced.

In early diabetic retinopathy (also called nonproliferative retinopathy, or NPDR), new blood vessels aren’t growing, and the walls of the blood vessels in your retina become weak. There are three stages of NDPR: 

  • Mild nonproliferative retinopathy, when microaneurysms (or tiny bulges) protrude from small vessels and can leak fluid. 
  • Moderate nonproliferative retinopathy, when there is a blockage in some retinal vessels.
  • Severe nonproliferative retinopathy, when more blood vessels are blocked and the retina is deprived of blood supply, causing additional blood vessels to grow.

In advanced diabetic retinopathy (also known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy) damaged vessels shut off, prompting the growth of new, abnormal blood vessels. 

Risk factors and symptoms: 

Because diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes (both types 1 and 2), it affects adults with diabetes. The longer someone has diabetes and the less care they take to control it, the more likely they are to develop diabetic retinopathy. 

Hispanic Americans who have diabetes have the highest risk for developing the disease, although white and black Americans can also develop it. Men and women are equally affected. If, in addition to being diabetic, you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, aren’t properly managing your diabetes, use tobacco, or are pregnant, your risk increases. 

You might not have any symptoms initially, but as the disease progresses, symptoms include floaters (spots or strings “floating” in your vision), blurry vision, loss of vision, dark or empty areas in your field of vision, and impaired color vision. 

Prevention tips: 

Manage your diabetes with healthy food, exercise, and carefully monitor your blood sugar. Don’t smoke or use tobacco: Smoking can increase your risk of diabetic retinopathy and other diabetes complications. 

 

Glaucoma

 

What it is: 

Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases, rather than a single disease, that damage the optic nerve. It’s the leading cause of blindness for people over the age of 60 and affects about 2.7 million adults in the U.S.

There are two main types of glaucoma, and both are marked by an increase in eye pressure (intraocular pressure, or IOP). 

  • Open-angle glaucoma is the most common, affecting 90% of glaucoma patients. This chronic condition will progress gradually. 
  • Closed-angle (also called acute angle-closure) glaucoma is not as common, but is more dangerous, comes on painfully and suddenly, and is considered a medical emergency. 

Risk factors and symptoms: 

Getting older is the biggest risk factor, and black Americans aged 40 and older are at the highest risk. You’re also at a greater risk if you’re female; women account for 61 percent of glaucoma cases. Glaucoma is genetic, so family history contributes to your risk. So does having high blood pressure and diabetes. 

Vision loss is a primary symptom, but often it occurs so gradually that it goes unnoticed. Some symptoms of open-angle glaucoma include patchy blind spots in your peripheral or central vision and tunnel vision.

In acute angle-closure glaucoma, you may experience significant eye pain, severe headache, blurry vision, redness of the eyes, halos around lights and nausea and vomiting. Make sure to see an eye doctor if you experience these symptoms. 

Prevention tips: 

Get regular dilated eye exams to help detect glaucoma in the early stages. Regular exercise can reduce eye pressure and reduce your risk. 

Because each of these diseases can cause vision loss, it’s important to safeguard your eye health through regular eye exams, as well as taking care of your overall health. Always contact your eye doctor right away if you notice sudden vision changes or painful eye problems. 

Ready to schedule your next eye exam? Make your appointment today.