Eye Diseases on the Rise in the US

According to a report issued by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute, eye diseases – including those that cause blindness – are on the rise in the US. The research shows that since 2000, there has been a marked increase in cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy has increased an alarming 89% over the last 12 years, and an estimated eight million people 40 and over now have this disease, which can lead to blindness.

Other results show:

  • A 25% increase in macular degeneration affecting more than two million people over the age of 50
  • A 22% increase in open angle glaucoma affecting nearly three million people 40-years-old and older
  • A 19% increase in cataracts affecting more than 24 million people 40 and older

While vision can be restored if the patient has cataracts, provided they are caught in time, glaucoma can only be treated and the pressure relieved. The high percentage of diabetic retinopathy cases seems to be due to the diabetes epidemic plaguing the country, especially among minorities. A clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology calls the results “scary” and says they are “proof we are in a losing battle.” She also says the he increase in macular degeneration “mirrors the booming aging population.”

Protecting the eyes against these and other diseases is very important. Getting regular eye exams yearly can help head off any serious problems you may encounter later on in life. Eating healthy, getting your blood glucose levels checked, and talking to your healthcare provider, as well as your ophthalmologist are things you can do to keep your risks of eye diseases low.

If you believe you are at risk for these or other eye diseases, please find an experienced eye doctor in your area through eyes.com today.

Smoking and Your Eyes

While the health dangers associated with smoking cigarettes are well documented, they generally focus on lung cancer and respiratory issues such as asthma and emphysema. But did you know that smoking can also cause serious damage to your eyes?

There are approximately 4,000 chemicals introduced into your bloodstream when you smoke cigarettes. Many of these chemicals can result in severe damage to your vision. In fact, smoking can increase your risk of developing age-related eye conditions such as macular degeneration and cataracts.

Smoking is the leading preventable risk factor for macular degeneration, which is the most common cause of blindness among people over the age of 65. In fact, a 2006 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that smoking was a causal factor in approximately 25% of all age-related macular degeneration cases resulting in vision loss. Furthermore, living with someone who smokes will double your risk of developing the condition.

Studies have also found smoking to be a considerable risk factor in developing cataracts, a condition occurring when your eye’s natural lens becomes clouded. People who smoke 15 or more cigarettes a day are three times as likely to develop cataracts as nonsmokers. Researchers believe that cigarette smoke increases your risk of cataracts by boosting the oxidative stress on your eye’s lens.

If you didn’t already have enough reasons to quit smoking, add protecting your vision to the list. Years of smoking will take its toll on your body in many ways, and your vision is too important to place in jeopardy.

Please contact eyes.com today to find an experienced ophthalmologist near you.

Aging Eyes Disturb Circadian Rhythms

Research done by cataract surgeons in Florida says that naturally aging eyes can disturb circadian rhythms. This in turn can lead to a laundry list of health problems for older people. Health concerns such as insomnia, memory loss, and depression may be understandable in people who do not sleep well. However, recent studies also point to high cholesterol, inactive lifestyles, obesity, and heart disease as a result of aging eyes, too.

As humans age, the narrowing of the pupil and yellowing of the lens contribute to irregularities in circadian rhythms. This internal clock is what helps us get up in the morning and fall asleep at night. This is done because of blue light being regulated through photoreceptive cells by absorbing sunlight. Messages transmitted to the brain cause a release of melatonin and cortisol. Aging eyes cause the reception of blue light to diminish which interrupts messages to the brain governing circadian rhythms.

Eye doctors recommend older people suffering from sleep loss, and symptoms related to sleep loss, be checked for cataracts. Cataract surgery and the replacement of the natural lens with an intraocular lens (IOL) reduces insomnia, because blue light is allowed through uninterrupted. Studies also show a reduction in daytime sleepiness and improved reaction time after cataract surgery.

Eye doctors suggest patients get exposure to bright sunlight and bright indoor lighting daily to help counteract aging on the eyes. Further studies on aging eyes, blue light exposure, and cataracts, and how they interact with circadian rhythms will do much to improve overall human health in the future.

If you are suffering from insomnia, find an experienced eye doctor in your area to test you for cataracts.

Smoking and Eye Damage

The dangers smoking pose to your health have been well-documented. However, the link between smoking and eye damage is rarely included in conversations with the more serious consequences such as lung cancer. But by smoking regularly, you dramatically increase your risk of several serious eye conditions.

When you inhale cigarette smoke, you are bringing roughly 4,000 chemicals into your bloodstream. Many of these chemicals are harmful to the health of your eyes and can potentially damage your macula. As a result, smokers face an increased risk of macular degeneration, a condition which may lead to blindness.

In fact, smoking is one of the leading risk factors associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology revealed that approximately 25% of AMD patients who suffered vision loss were also smokers. Additionally, the study found that people who live in the same house with a smoker for a prolonged period of time are twice as likely to develop AMD.

Another vision condition commonly associated with smoking is cataracts. Studies have shown that people who smoke 15 or more cigarettes per day may be as much as three times more likely develop cataracts than nonsmokers. Smoking increases the oxidative stress in your eye’s natural lens, which ultimately increases the likelihood of cataract formation.

These eye health issues are fairly serious. One of the easiest ways to lower your risk of these conditions is to quit smoking.

Please contact eyes.com today to find an experienced eye doctor in your area.

Electronic IOL May Be the Future of Cataract Surgery

A computer-controlled, fully programmable intraocular lens (IOL) may soon give cataract surgery patients better vision than any time in their lives. One of the persistent problems in cataract surgery is properly calculating the strength of lens to be used for optimal results. Even experienced ophthalmologists find this to be challenging, and subtle, unknown factors can lead to uncertainty in the final results. In about 1-2% of cataract surgeries, the results are so bad that the patients seek reoperation, and most often this is to have a different lens implanted. Many other patients live with less-than-optimal vision, or have secondary refractive procedures (such as LASIK) to improve the results.

The electronic IOL, known as ELENZA, may eliminate that problem, as well as possible problems that may result from future changes in vision. The new IOL is fully programmable, so it can be adjusted not just immediately after cataract surgery, but at a later date in response to eye injury, glaucoma, or other visual changes. The lens is also self-accommodating, so it does not depend on potentially weakening cilia muscles, and it may even be able to surpass the accommodating ability of the eye’s natural lenses. Theoretically, the lens could be used to give its recipients telescopic vision and super visual clarity at all distances.

You may remember the LED contact lens that was announced last year. In talking about that concept, I discussed the possibility of IOLs that replace the natural lens with an LED-array. Essentially, that would involve replacing the transparent lens with an opaque camera-transmitter array, like having a tiny video camera on one side and a tiny TV on the other.

This new electronic lens is different–it still functions like a lens, only it uses liquid crystal as the refractive medium. The arrangement of liquid crystal can be controlled by small electromagnetic fields, which in this case is used to change the refractive index and therefore the focusing power of the lens. The concept has already been applied to prescription glasses, allowing the wearer to change the focus of the glasses, eliminating the need for bifocals.

One problem with electronic lenses is that they need a power source. In the case of ELENZA, developers project the power will be provided by a microscopic rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Although similar to the batteries used on cochlear implants, they will be even smaller. These batteries will need to be recharged every 3-4 days, though developers estimate their lifespan at 50 years. Chargers, they say, can be placed in pillows or in face masks worn while sleeping.

One advantage of the liquid crystal lenses over the LED display is what happens if your batteries fail. In the liquid crystal lens, it simply reverts to a monofocal lens that gives you good distance vision, suitable for driving a car and most other outdoor tasks. The LCD display, on the other hand, would simply go dark, leaving you blind.

It remains to be seen, though, whether these new implantable lenses could be synced with a computer to give you an implanted display.

The developers of ELENZA hope to begin in vivo studies in the near future, possibly as early as 2013, and hopefully FDA approval as early as 2018.

There are still a number of good IOL options for people seeking cataracts today. To learn more about your IOL options, please contact a local ophthalmologist for a consultation today.

Risk Factors for ES Glaucoma Identified

Data from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) continue to reveal new insights into diseases with complex risk factors, such as glaucoma. In the most recent publication related to NHS-HPFS data, researchers have identified several major risk factors for developing exfoliation syndrome (ES), which can significantly increase a person’s risk for developing glaucoma.

ES occurs when material from the iris rubs off. It can be seen on the lens as a whitish flaky material, but it does not impair vision. The main danger of this material is that it can clog the eye’s drainage angle, leading to elevated intraocular pressure which damages the optic nerve, which is what we call glaucoma. In addition, ES can contribute to your cataract risk, as the flecks may increase crystallization of the lens’ proteins. Now researchers have identified several risk factors that contribute to your likelihood of experiencing this eye disease.

The dominant risk factors seem to be genetics, age, gender, and where you live. The genetics and age connections have long been known. People with a family history of the condition have essentially double the risk for developing it themselves. Risk for the condition also increases with age–the mean age of sufferers seems to be in the early 70s.

Women seem to be at a greater risk for this condition than men, but it is unknown whether this is due to hormonal, environmental, or anatomical variables. perhaps the most striking discovery is that where you live can have a dramatic impact on your risk for developing this condition. Those in the northernmost parts of the US have the highest risk, with those in the middle US have a 47% decreased risk, and those in the southernmost third of the US have a 75% reduced risk. Surprisingly, where you live now is only the second most strongly associated location for your risk of ES. The most strongly associated location was the residence of people at age 15.

The NHS-HPFS data utilizes lifetime data from about 130,000 subjects and can identify some important correlations, though of course it cannot determine whether these are simple correlations or actual causal relationships.

The most important thing to remember about glaucoma is that it can often be subtle with no symptoms before you begin losing vision. To prevent vision loss, you should have regular appointments with your eye doctor for glaucoma screening. If you do not currently have one, you can find an ophthalmologist in your area to help identify glaucoma before vision loss.

Casting about for Profitable Indications

Pharmaceutical companies are in it for the profit, and one of the ways they look to maximize profits from a drug they have patented is to find new indications for a slightly altered and therefore newly-patent-protected variation on an old medication. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Consider the case of ISTA Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of eye medications, and their flagship product to date had been Xibrom, a twice-daily non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) solution that is used by cataract surgery patients to reduce inflammation and speed healing. Xibrom’s patent expired in January 2009. However, the company recently capitalized on a reformulated version, Bromday, designed for once-a-day use and capable of providing similarly good results. However, the patent for Bromday expires in 2013, at which point ISTA seems to be out of tricks for this drug.

Or are they? ISTA is trying to find a new indication for a slightly reformulated version to treat the profitable condition du jour, dry eyes. Everyone is trying to get into the dry eyes market, one of the most common eye conditions for which there is not a standard treatment available. The market for dry eye treatments is already $1.7 billion and is expected to grow at least 10% per year until at least 2014, with a potential for reaching $2.4 billion, according to some estimates. That’s some serious scratch, so of course any sensible drug company is going to jump on the opportunity if it has some potentially effective drug under patent.

ISTA moved to third phase clinical trials of its new dry eyes medication Remura in 2010. Positive results from the phase II trials made them hopeful, but when the results came back from the phase III clinical trials, it was found that the drug did not perform better than placebo. Sophisticated statistical analysis showed that the drug actually did give some level of response for “conjunctival staining” (red eyes) when used at the highest dose for women aged 51-70. In other words, the trial is viewed as a total failure.

So ISTA’s stock prices took a dramatic dip (28%), despite a press release that blamed the failure of the study on a “dramatic” placebo response. And the company is looking for some other way to use this drug to make money.

The profit-driven nature of the pharmaceutical industry is another good reason to consult with a doctor about your medications rather than trusting claims or marketing material by the company itself. If you are looking to find the best treatment for your eye condition, please contact a local ophthalmologist today.

Eliminating Cells in Mice Found to Prevent Cataracts, other Signs of Aging

The targeted elimination of certain cells may prevent and slow the physical signs of aging, according to a recent study from researchers at the Mayo Clinic.

A certain drug treatment in mice prevented the onset of cataracts. The drug also slowed the progression of muscle wasting, as well as preventing the thinning of fat that leads to wrinkles.

The drug eliminated “senescent cells,” cells that are no longer viable and have stopped dividing. Our bodies use cellular senescence to halt the progression of malignant tumor cells.

Cataract-Inducing Cells

Prior to the study, the link between senescent cells and aging signs was unclear. Now, researchers know that cellular senescence causes tissue aging. There is a buildup of these cells in aging tissues, such as the tissue of cataracts and arthritic joints. Not only do the cells accumulate in these tissues, they accelerate the aging of the tissues.

The researchers used genetically engineered mice that aged rapidly. Young mice that were treated with the drug did not develop signs of cataracts and other signs of aging. Mice that were not treated with the drug until middle age already had cataracts that could not be reversed.

Implications for Healthspan

The gene-flushing of the mice cannot be performed in humans, but the findings of the study hold important implications for preventing cataracts and other signs of aging.

The study did not look at whether removing senescent cells extends lifespan. Instead, the removal of the cells extends what can be called “healthspan” as we age. After all, living longer than ever before loses much of its appeal if those years are spent living with age-related diseases and maladies. The researchers plan to undertake another study in which the mice will not be engineered to age rapidly. In that study, they aim to discover if removing senescent cells will also extend lifespan.

Throughout our lives, our immune systems remove some of our senescent cells. As we age, our bodies remove these cells less efficiently and senescent cells begin to accumulate more rapidly.

While cells cannot be removed from humans like they were in the mice, the finding of the link between senescent cells and tissue degeneration may provide scientists with a new direction for combating cataracts and other signs of aging. Drugs or therapies could be developed to boost the immune system so that it continues to remove senescent cells in old age. There is also the possibility that drugs could be developed that would target and remove senescent cells in humans.

To learn more about cataracts and cataract treatment, please contact an experienced eye doctor in your area.

Cataract Symptoms

Cataracts are an age-related vision condition affecting millions of Americans. It occurs when your eye’s lens becomes clouded, causing light to scatter rather than focus on the retina. At first, you most likely will not notice any problems with your vision since in their early stages, cataracts only block a small amount of light from reaching your retina. But as cataracts get worse, your vision will deteriorate significantly.

Common cataract symptoms include:

  • Increasing problems with night vision, including glare and halos
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Fading colors
  • More frequent changes in your prescription, generally related to nearsightedness
  • Ghosting (double vision) in one eye

These symptoms may gradually impact your ability to carry out daily activities, especially driving at night. It may also be difficult to participate in sports which require clear vision.

Early cataract symptoms can be treated by adjusting your eyeglass or contact lens prescription. However, as your cataracts get worse, you will eventually need to seek treatment from your ophthalmologist. Cataract surgery can be performed to remove the cataracts from your eye’s lens and restore clear vision.

Please contact eyes.com to find an experienced ophthalmologist in your area.