Women Encouraged To Keep An “Eye” On Vision-related Concerns

By Cheryl L. Dejewski
September is “Healthy Aging Month,” and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds Americans with no signs or risk factors for eye disease of the importance of getting a baseline screening at age 40—the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur. By 2020, it is estimated that 43 million Americans will face significant vision loss or blindness from age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

The doctors at Eye Care Specialists, one of Wisconsin’s leading ophthalmology practices, offer insights into how some of these eye conditions are more likely to impact women and their overall health, safety, and freedom to see life to the fullest.
Decreased vision in women has been linked to an increased risk of falling, which often causes more serious concerns, including hip fractures, the need for canes, walkers and/or nursing home care, and complication-related death. Decreased vision also increases the risk of car accidents and can have a devastating effect on quality of life in terms of limiting daily task performance, independence, social interaction, and other factors.

“Poor vision, however, is not a fact of life as you grow older. If your vision is getting worse, and new glasses don’t seem to do the trick, you need to schedule a comprehensive, dilated eye exam to rule out possible causes,” advises Brett Rhode, MD, Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center and private practitioner at Eye Care Specialists’ downtown Milwaukee and West Allis locations. “Upon examination, we often find that cataracts (age-related clouding of the natural lens inside the eye) are the cause of the problem and, in most cases, surgical removal and replacement with a customized lens implant is a relatively easy and painless solution.” Rhode stresses, “Since cataracts are a primary but reversible cause of diminished vision, early detection and removal can prevent needless pain, suffering and cost. I can’t tell you how many cataract patients say that the only issue they have with the surgery (which only takes about 10-20 minutes at our outpatient surgery center), is that they wish they had done it sooner.”
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is another leading cause of vision impairment in Americans over age 50, and although the exact cause is unknown, it affects more women than men. AMD is a condition in which the macula, a highly sensitive area of the retina responsible for central and detail vision (about the size of this “O”), is damaged. There are two forms of AMD—wet and dry. Both cause loss of central or straight-ahead vision, impacting the ability to drive, read, see faces, etc.

Mark Freedman, MD, an ophthalmologist with 27 years of experience and a continuing education lecturer for southeastern Wisconsin eye and health care professionals, explains, “Dry AMD usually does not result in rapid vision loss, and many patients retain good sight throughout their lives. Wet AMD, however, tends to cause a rapid and profound loss of sharp central vision, which may result in legal (less than 20/200 vision), but not total (because some side vision remains) blindness. Without treatment, about 70 percent of wet AMD patients become legally blind within two years. If dry AMD is diagnosed, we may recommend vitamin supplements, healthy omega fatty acid intake, sun protection, and avoidance of smoking, as measures to prevent or slow progression. When needed, we also educate patients about low vision aids (like magnifiers) and support/transport services to help them stay independent and productive. If wet AMD is diagnosed, we review the risks, benefits and candidacy for Avastin or Eylea medication injections, which inhibit the growth of the abnormal blood vessels that cause wet AMD.” Freedman, who has treated thousands of AMD patients, reports, “Although there are NO guarantees, we have seen remarkable results with these medications. With regular injections (about every month or so), we have been able to stop the progression of wet AMD in 90 percent of our patients, and even had up to 30 percent gain improvement in vision.” (Injection treatment is also successfully used to control diabetes-related vision damage.)


“Dry scratchy, irritated eyes are a common problem, affecting people of all ages, especially women over age 40. The most frequent cause is the natural decrease in tear production that occurs with aging,” notes Daniel Paskowitz, MD, PhD, an ophthalmologist with credentials from both Harvard and Johns Hopkins. Dry eyes can also be related to rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, Parkinson’s disease, chemical burns, thyroid disease, eyelid position or closure problems, and prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Hormonal changes—as with pregnancy, menopause and hormone replacement therapy—may also cause dry eyes. For most people, dry eye disease is uncomfortable but not vision-threatening. Sometimes, however, a faulty or diminished tear film can affect the cornea’s focusing ability and increase the risk of eye infections. “Dry eyes are usually a life-long condition that can be controlled, but rarely cured. If frequent use of artificial tears does not halt discomfort, you may be a candidate for two other options: a five-minute office procedure that places tiny silicone plugs into the drain openings at the corner of the eye to eliminate tear loss and retain moisture; or a prescription eye drop called Restasis™ that attacks the underlying inflammation behind dry eye disease,” explains eye care specialist Michael Raciti, MD. He adds, “Don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your gynecologist, doctor, and/or eye care specialist if you think HRT or other medications or conditions are affecting your vision. They can evaluate and address your concerns so that you can experience tears of joy rather than pain.”

Daniel Ferguson, MD, a corneal specialist, surgeon and partner at Eye Care Specialists ophthalmology practice, has helped countless patients overcome eye infections, abrasions and injuries. “It’s rewarding to help someone resharpen their focus. What’s frustrating, however, is if the problem didn’t have to happen in the first place. For example, I’ll see men with minor to serious eye injuries because they did not wear proper eye protection when doing sports, hobbies or handyman projects. A simple pair of safety glasses or goggles could have saved them time, money and suffering. But, for women, I’ll sometimes see vision-threatening issues caused by something you may not expect . . . cosmetics. “Many eye makeup-related dangers (like infections and abrasions) can be avoided by following simple common sense precautions. One analogy I like to use is that you most likely wouldn’t want to shake someone’s hand after watching them sneeze into it, so why would you want to take their mascara wand or eye shadow and wipe the same bacteria around your eye?” In addition to the “no-sharing” rule, Ferguson recommends following safe storage, use and replacement precautions for eye makeup. This includes always washing your hands prior to application, insisting on the use of disposable applicators when trying makeup at a store or salon, never sleeping in makeup, never putting mascara on while driving, keeping makeup containers out of the sun and heat, carrying makeup in frequently replaced plastic zip lock bags, and discarding any product that causes an allergic reaction or infection.

How can women protect their vision to maintain independence and quality of life? “Scheduling regular comprehensive dilated eye exams is the best way to protect your health, safety, and freedom to see, drive, cook, read, shop, visit, and enjoy life to the fullest,” advises
Dr. David Scheidt, past president of the Wisconsin Optometric Association. “During your appointment, ask your eye care specialist to review the risks and benefits of any applicable prevention and/or treatment options, including vision-related nutritional supplements.
You should also be proactive in protecting your vision by always wearing sunglasses and hats with brims, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet low in saturated fats and high in Omega 3s.”

FREE Booklets & Information
Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of cataracts, glaucoma, AMD, and diabetic and dry eye disease. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies of their booklets on these conditions or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue, Mayfair Road across from the mall, or 102nd & National Ave. They also offer information at www.eyecarespecialists.net.


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