September is Healthy Aging Month, a month set aside to encourage people to take personal responsibility for their health and wellbeing.
Vision problems are common with age, and many people over age 40 will experience some age-related vision loss due to presbyopia, which can make it difficult to see to read and perform other simple tasks. Presbyopia is not dangerous, and is typically corrected with eyeglasses or bifocals.
What Eye Conditions Are Common With Age?
Other eye conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma often affect aging adults and can result in severe vision loss.
Cataracts: Cataracts are a clouding of the eye’s focusing lens. They can blur vision, making it difficult to see street signs and traffic lights while driving. Cataracts can also make it difficult to read, watch TV and perform other common daily tasks. Once the focusing lens is clouded, there is no way to clear it. Cataract surgery must be performed to replace the focusing lens.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Sharp central vision gradually diminishes as the macula is destroyed by age-related macular degeneration. You may experience difficulty completing common daily tasks like reading or driving. Macular degeneration is common in adults over 50, and sometimes it advances so slowly that symptoms go unnoticed for a long time. This disease can be detected early with a comprehensive eye exam.
Diabetic Retinopathy: In diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels in the back of the eye can leak, impairing vision. The condition is caused by diabetes and can lead to a significant loss of vision. It is the leading cause of blindness in people ages 20-64, and is one of the most frequent causes of retinal blindness in the world. About 25 percent of diabetics have some form of diabetic retinopathy, and five percent have a severe form of the disease. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy through a comprehensive eye exam is vital to saving vision.
Glaucoma: This is a condition in which fluid in the eye does not flow normally, resulting in high pressure inside the eye. Nerve damage and permanent blindness may occur if the high pressure is not controlled. You may be at a higher risk of developing glaucoma if you have high blood pressure, high blood sugar or a family history of the disease. Again, early detection of glaucoma with a comprehensive eye exam is vital.
How Can Age-Related Eye Conditions Be Prevented?
You cannot turn back aging, but there are some things you can do to prevent or slow the effect of aging on your eyes. Here are a few tips to help keep your eyes healthy as you age:
- Maintain regular eye exams. A comprehensive eye exam is the only way to detect eye conditions or vision loss. Early detection can also help prevent vision loss. Even if you are healthy and have not experienced vision loss, an annual eye exam is a must for anyone over 40.
- Protect your eyes from the sun. The UV rays emitted by the sun can be extremely damaging to your eyes and are known to cause cataracts and macular degeneration. Wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays. A wide-brimmed hat can also help protect your eyes from the sun when you are outside.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods rich in vitamins and minerals is great not only for your overall health but also for your eyes. People with low levels of antioxidants may be at a higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Essential nutrients for healthy eyes include: vitamins C (citrus fruits, broccoli) and E (vegetable oils, nuts and avocados), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, which are found in dark leafy vegetables and whole eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout, will also help keep the nerve cells around the retina healthy, thus preventing age-related eye conditions such as macular degeneration.
- Manage your blood pressure and weight. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, elevated blood pressure can lead to age-related macular degeneration. Individuals who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop diabetes, which could in turn lead to diabetic retinopathy.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking reduces blood flow to the eye, which can lead to eye diseases. For individuals at risk of diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration, smoking can greatly increase that risk.
If you have noticed changes in your vision, such as a sudden onset of floaters or flashes, darkness in your field of vision, cloudy or blurred vision, or gradual or sudden vision loss, contact the Key-Whitman Eye Center to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.