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Connie K. Ho for RedOrbit.com
Mark your calendars: May is Healthy Vision Month. Since 2003, the National Eye Institute (NEI) has promoted May with this national eye health observance. During Health Vision Month, NEI hopes to increase awareness about early diagnosis and treatment of vision loss.
The NEI, under the National Institute of Health (NIH), helps develop the federal government´s research on the visual system and eye diseases. The NIH is the country´s primary medical research agency, analyzing causes, treatments, and cures for common and rare diseases. With the NEI support, basic and clinical science programs can research sight-saving treatments.
“Vision changes as people get older, but vision loss is not a normal part of aging,” remarked Dr. Paul A. Sieving, the NEI Director, in a prepared statement.
A number of common eye diseases can affect millions of Americans, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There are new discoveries that can help treat diseases, but early diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care is always the best option. Physicians state that there are are normally no symptoms of eye diseases, so comprehensive dilated exams are utilized so that doctors can closely examine the back of the eye for any signs of an eye disease.
In particular, the retina, a layer of tissue in the back of the eye that senses light, is an important part of the eye. There are various diseases that can damage it. Glaucoma can damage the optic nerve which sends visual information from the retina to the brain. African Americans who are 40 and older as well as Mexican Americans ages 60 and up have a higher risk of having glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy, a side effect of diabetes, can cause swelling, leakage, and blockage of blood vessels that help the retina. Those with diabetes type 1 or 2 are in danger of having diabetic retinopathy. AMD occurs when the center part of the retina cannot function anymore. AMD especially affects those who are past smokers, those who have a family history of AMD, or those who are over the age of 50.
Luckily, research is being done by the NEI on treatments for rare eye diseases. For example, scientists have helped treat patients with Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare retinal disease, with gene transfer therapy. There is also progress being made in the areas of stem cell therapy and transplantable retinal tissue. Scientists have also worked on an Age-Related Eye Disease studies that analyze the high levels of antioxidants and zinc to lower the risk of developing AMD. Likewise, comparisons of AMD Treatment Trials by the NEI found that the two most popular drugs used to treat AMD, one for the use in the eye and the other created to treat cancer, were both effective.
“As the largest vision research organization in the world, the NEI is making tremendous gains in the understanding of common and rare vision disorders,” noted Sieving. “Through new tools for DNA analysis, the NEI is identifying gene variations that influence eye disease risk. Scientists can then study these genes to understand disease pathways and identify therapeutic targets.”
Learn more about keeping eyes healthy online with NEI online.