Retinal disease can steal your vision, but it doesn’t have to

For decades, Glenroy Washington happily worked as a professional musician, a passion that led him around the world. Then while on tour in Europe, he noticed something was wrong with his eyesight, and that’s when his life began to change.

Washington has diabetes and tried to keep his A1C, or blood sugar, under control. However, his hectic travel schedule affected his ability to manage his diabetes and he experienced symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, a retinal condition that occurs when diabetes damages blood vessels in the retina.

Retinal conditions like diabetic retinopathy as well as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition caused by a deterioration of the retina that leads to a loss of central vision, are among the leading causes of blindness and vision loss in the U.S. Diabetic retinopathy affects 7.7 million Americans. AMD impacts as many as 11 million Americans. Both numbers are expected to double by 2050 due to longer life expectancies.

Retinal disease can steal your vision, but it doesn’t have to. The American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS) launched the “See for a Lifetime. See a Retina Specialist.” campaign to elevate awareness of retinal disease as a major public health threat and prompt people at risk and their families to act. More information and resources can be found at SeeforaLifetime.org.

“Incredible advances now allow us to successfully treat conditions that just a generation ago typically led to legal blindness,” said ASRS President Dr. Carl C. Awh. “The fact that we have these effective treatments makes it more important than ever to educate patients and their families about ways to recognize, prevent and treat retinal diseases. By doing so, we should be able to preserve, or even improve, the vision and quality of life of many.”

As part of the campaign, there are three things America’s retina specialists want you to know:

1. Knowing retinal disease risk factors and symptoms can save your sight

Common adult symptoms of retinal disease include blurred central vision, distortion or straight lines appearing wavy, and sudden onset of floaters or flashes of light. Common risk factors for retinal disease include older age, family history, smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol, or diabetes. Seek care immediately if you experience sudden changes in vision.

2. Early detection is a game changer

Many retinal diseases have few noticeable symptoms in their early stages. With regular dilated retina exams, your eye physician can help preserve your sight by detecting signs of a retinal condition early, before extensive damage occurs. During a dilated retina exam, your eye physician takes a very close look at the back of your eye to check for any problems and will refer you to a retina specialist if there are signs of a retinal condition.

3. Retina specialists can help

Innovative treatments developed and delivered by retina specialists can prevent vision loss, allowing patients to maintain active, independent lives. Retina specialists are among the most extensively trained and highly skilled eye care providers, with mastery of the newest and most sophisticated tools and surgical techniques available to diagnose and treat retinal diseases. With the right screening, and ongoing monitoring and treatment, almost all patients with retinal diseases can avoid significant vision loss.

If you’re at risk for retinal disease because of family history or underlying conditions such as diabetes, or if you experience symptoms of a retinal condition, see a retina specialist as soon as possible. That’s what Washington did. After returning to the states, he met with a retina specialist who determined that diabetic retinopathy had affected both of his eyes.

She immediately developed a personalized treatment plan to improve his vision that included laser treatments and intravitreal injections, also known as eye injections. With ongoing treatment, Washington is back to performing, driving and can read even small text, which is helping him as he works on his next two albums and travels for shows.

“If you have a family history of retinal conditions or experience symptoms, make an appointment with a retina specialist right away because delaying care can lead to vision loss,” said ASRS Foundation President Dr. Timothy G. Murray. “Your retina specialist will use advanced retinal imaging and early treatment, if needed, to help preserve your vision.”

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