Remember when you could sit down to read a newspaper without reaching for your glasses? You may never have those young eyes again, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of poor vision. In fact, many older people have good eyesight into their 80’s and beyond. “Growing older does not always mean poor vision. But age does bring with it changes that can weaken your eyes,” explains Virgil Murray, IV, MD, Ophthalmologist with The Eye Clinic. “Regular, routine eye care is the best way to make sure these changes don’t result in permanent vision loss.”
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, one in three Americans will suffer from a sight-related disease by age 65. Here are brief descriptions of the most common of these diseases, and information from The Eye Clinic physicians regarding prevention and treatment:
Cataracts. A cataract is a gradual clouding of your eye’s lens, marked by blurred vision, impaired night vision, and halos around lights. A cataract may need no treatment at all if the vision is only a little blurry. A change in eyeglass prescription may improve vision for a while. Cataracts are most common in people over 60, and the risks are higher for people with diabetes and those who take corticosteroids. Excess exposure to the sun and cigarette smoke are also risk factors. There are no medications, eye drops, exercises or glasses that will cause cataracts to disappear once they have formed. Surgery is the only way to remove a cataract. During the procedure the clouded lens is replaced with a new lens implant to restore clear vision.
Glaucoma. This disease is a leading cause of blindness in the United States. It occurs when the optic nerve is damaged when fluids that normally flow in and out of the eye drain improperly, causing increased pressure. Early treatment can stop its progression, but unfortunately, most people don’t notice any symptoms until permanent damage has occurred. That’s why regular trips to your eye doctor are crucial, especially if someone in your immediate family has the disease, if you have diabetes or are over age 60. African Americans are also at increased risk. It can also develop at a much earlier age, so have your eyes tested every one to two years starting around age 40.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration. This disease of the retina is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. It results when the macula, the part of the retina responsible for sharp vision, begins to deteriorate. Macular degeneration comes in two forms, dry and wet. The dry form, in which the retina has simply worn thin with age, is untreatable, but it is usually slow to progress and rarely causes severe vision loss. Some research suggests that vitamins and minerals may slow its development. The wet form of the disease occurs when abnormal blood vessels form beneath the retina. It poses a much more serious threat to your eyesight, but laser surgery can help some patients avoid further vision loss. To get the earliest possible treatment, see an eye doctor promptly if your vision becomes fuzzy or blurry, if straight lines look wavy, or if blank or dark spots show up in the center of your vision.
Diabetic Retinopathy. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels that feed the retina, putting people with the disease at high risk for blindness. Retinal damage is particularly common in people who have had diabetes for at least 10 years, and it’s nearly universal in those who have had the disorder for 30 years or more. Diabetic retinopathy causes blurred or fluctuating vision, and it can worsen rapidly. When caught in time, the disease can be treated with laser surgery. If you have diabetes, annual checkups with an eye doctor are absolutely essential. Carefully controlling both your blood sugar and your blood pressure will also go a long way toward preventing vision loss.
Dry Eye Syndrome. This condition is usually caused by a problem with the quality of the tear film that lubricates the eyes. Many find relief simply from using artificial tears on a regular basis. Preservative-free tears are recommended because they are the most soothing and have fewer additives that could potentially irritate. Avoid products that whiten the eyes – they don’t have adequate lubricating qualities and often make the problem worse. Closing the opening of the tear drain in the eyelid with special inserts called punctal plugs is another option.
Older adults often take medications for other health conditions and some of these may affect vision with side effects such as blurred vision, dry eyes, and light sensitivity. Most effects are temporary and will stop when you quit taking the medicine, but Dr. Murray says it’s important to keep your eye doctor up to date on all the drugs and supplements that you’re using.
“When it comes to your vision, as with most things in life, prevention is far better than cure. Just as you have regular exams to monitor and manage other aspects of your health, it’s also important to get your eyes checked regularly and to realize that an eye exam is not just a check for a new prescription. It’s a vital check on the overall health of your eyes that can help ensure a lifetime of good vision.”
Call The Eye Clinic nearest you to schedule an eye exam, or 800-826-5223 or visit our website www.TheEyeClinic.net