News Release

Monday, April 30, 2012

NIH encourages Americans to make healthy vision last a lifetime

Statement from National Eye Institute Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D.

Vision changes as people get older, but vision loss is not a normal part of aging.

Common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) threaten millions of Americans, potentially robbing them of vision, mobility, and independence. New discoveries are yielding sight-saving treatments, but early diagnosis, timely treatment, and appropriate follow-up care are essential to preventing irreversible vision loss.

Early stages of common eye diseases typically have no symptoms and can only be detected through a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Pupil dilation allows a doctor to closely examine the back of the eye for signs of eye disease.

Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, which relays visual information from the retina to the brain. The retina is the light-sensing layer of tissue in the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy — a complication of diabetes — causes swelling, leakage, and blockage of the blood vessels that nourish the retina. AMD occurs when cells in the center part of the retina, called the macula, break down.

People at higher risk of glaucoma include African-Americans age 40 and older; everyone age 60 and older, especially Mexican Americans; and people with a family history of the disease. People at risk of diabetic retinopathy include people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. People over 50 years old, whites, smokers, and those with a family history of AMD are at greater risk of AMD.

As the largest vision research organization in the world, the NEI is making tremendous gains in the understanding of common and rare vision disorders. 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.

Recent clinical trials sponsored by the NEI have provided doctors with crucial data regarding prevention and treatment of AMD. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study determined that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc reduces the risk of developing AMD by about 25 percent. The NEI Comparison of AMD Treatments Trials found that the two most commonly used AMD drugs — one that was designed for use in the eye and a much cheaper drug that was developed to treat cancer — are equally effective in treating AMD.

The NEI is pioneering new treatments for rare eye diseases. Scientists have successfully treated people with a rare retinal disease called Leber congenital amaurosis using gene transfer therapy. Work in stem cell therapy is also making good progress. Preliminary work by NEI-funded scientists has demonstrated with lab experiments the possibility of generating transplantable retinal tissue from mature blood cells.

Healthy Vision Month is a national eye health observance established by the NEI in May 2003. During Healthy Vision Month, NEI is increasing awareness of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment through outreach efforts aimed at the general public.

Make healthy vision last a lifetime. During Healthy Vision Month, help elevate vision as a health priority.

For more information about keeping eyes healthy, visit

The National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, leads the federal government's research on the visual system and eye diseases. NEI supports basic and clinical science programs that result in the development of sight-saving treatments. For more information, visit

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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