Age-related eye disease causes and treatments

For our April 2022 workshop, Erik van Kuijk, MD, PhD, chair of the University of Minnesota Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Neurosciences, discussed age-related changes in the eye and the diseases that ensue. 

View the slides and a video recording of UMRA’s April 2022 Living Well Workshop with Dr. Erik van Kuijk.

He first discussed glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve, the prevalence of which increases with age. Its cause is unknown, but it is associated with increased pressure of the fluid in the eye. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type and progresses slowly, causing blind spots in peripheral vision and sometimes central vision. Closed-angle glaucoma is a more severe disease, causing sudden loss of vision.  

Treatments for both types are aimed at reducing eye pressure. They include medicated eye drops and a variety of laser and other surgeries. Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery or MIGS, a group of techniques that help drain eye fluid without extensive surgery, is the biggest recent treatment development

Macular degeneration
Dr. van Kuijk then moved on to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss. Estimates are that 3 percent of people over age 75 and 70 percent of people over age 90 have the condition. AMD causes blurred or lost central vision due to thinning of the macula, which is the part of the retina. Dry macular degeneration is the most common type and is characterized by a gradual loss of clear vision. Wet macular degeneration involves the growth and leaking of abnormal blood vessels in the eyes and can lead to a more sudden loss of vision.  

There are several medications, including Eyelea, that can help treat wet macular degeneration by discouraging the growth of the abnormal blood vessels. 

There are no medications for dry macular degeneration, but research has shown that certain vitamins and minerals can help the condition. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2, a major study, found that high doses of zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein, copper, and zeaxanthin were effective in slowing the progression of the condition. This combination is sold commercially in brands including PreserVision.

Lifestyle factors can aid in preventing and ameliorating eye disease. These include eating a varied diet emphasizing fresh and whole foods, exercise, and weight control. Another important thing one can do is to minimize the eye’s exposure to bright sunlight by wearing sunglasses (preferably wrap-around) and hats to shield the eyes.  

Perhaps most important of all is getting regular eye exams that can detect problems in their early stages.

Dr. van Kuijk fielded several questions from UMRA members and offered thanks to the Minnesota Lions Vision Foundation, which has strongly funded eye research at the University of Minnesota for many years.

—Ron Matross, president-elect and UMRA Program Committee chair

Publication date: 
April 27, 2022
At A Glance
Tuesday, May 24, 2022

2022 Annual Meeting and Forum

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Coffman Memorial Union


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Buffet lunch


Annual Meeting and Forum

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John Coleman, dean
College of Liberal Arts

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