Vision changes as we age.
“Nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults report having eye or vision problems, but only one out of eight report being examined by an eye doctor,” according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. September is Healthy Aging Month, and the academy is using this as a cue to stress the importance of all adults to have regular eye exams to maintain good vision and healthy eyes. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is recommended for all people regardless of overall health at the age of 40 for baseline, and these exams may need to be repeated more frequently if other chronic conditions exist such as diabetes or hypertension. Vision naturally changes as we age. Those who had clear vision at distance and near will usually start to need glasses for reading at some point in their mid-40s and may require glasses or contacts for all ranges of vision as they enter their 50s. Glasses and contacts may not be the answer for some eye conditions that present more frequently over the age of 50 such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Timely diagnosis of these conditions is crucial to prevent vision loss. Cataracts are a clouding or opacification of the eyes’ native lens. While there are many varieties of cataracts and some can impair vision sooner than others, the most common type of cataract is an aging change that is usually present to some degree by the age of 65. Common symptoms of cataracts include:
- Cloudy or blurred vision • Sensitivity to light and glare from headlights when driving
- Frequent prescription changes for glasses or contact lenses
- Color vision changes and overall dimming In the beginning stages of cataracts, glasses may be sufficient to maintain visual acuity. As the cataract becomes more advanced, surgery may be required. Fortunately, surgery has proven to be extremely successful in the removal of cataracts.
Glaucoma is an optic nerve disorder that causes people to slowly, painlessly and irreversibly lose peripheral vision at variable rates. This is usually related to a build-up of pressure inside the eye analagous to having too much air in a tire. There are other risk factors for the progression of glaucoma such as a positive family history, but the only modifiable risk factor we can treat is the pressure in the eye. Eye drops and inoffice laser procedures can be used to lower intraocular pressure from the onset of the condition, but for some patients surgery may be necessary.
Age Related Macular Degeneration is a condition that affects the bullseye of the retina, called the macula. The macula is responsible for our most acute vision used when reading, driving and performing other activities that require fine detail vision.
The underlying cause of AMD is largely unknown. Age, lifestyle and nutrition appear to play a role as well as other risk factors: smoking, diet, obesity, exposure to sunlight, high blood pressure and family history. Symptoms of AMD can be subtle and include blurring of central vision or distortion of straight lines. (They look wavy.) Your eye doctor can counsel you on lifestyle modifications or if the use of AREDS-2 eye vitamins will be beneficial to you.
Here are a few things you can do to help your eyes age gracefully:
- Wear safety glasses: Nails, metal shards from grinding/welding, chemicals, vegetative matter from lawnmowers/weedeaters, etc., can be life-changing if they end up in your eye. Invest in some good safety goggles for those household chores.
- Avoid UV light: UV light is wellknown to cause skin cancer, but little is ever mentioned of its effect on the eye. The body has resilient methods for repairing damaged DNA caused by UV light, but these repair mechanisms grow weary with age, so it is recommended to wear sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UVA and UVB light.
- Smoking: It affects circulation, and nowhere in the body is blood flow more critical than in the small vessels of the retina. It is also linked to cataracts and optic nerve damage, so lay off the cigarettes to allow the eye to get all of the oxygen and nutrients it needs.
- Computers and phones/tablets: People tend not to blink as much when staring at a computer, and the computer is usually positioned where one has to look up toward it exposing more of the eye to air and, thus, drying it out. Try to limit time staring at a screen, and if this is unavoidable at work, try to position yourself to look slightly down toward the monitor and use frequent nonpreserved artificial tear drops to keep the eye lubricated.
- Nutrition: The same table fare that is promoted for overall health is usually good for your eyes as well. Dry eyes can be improved by a diet high in green leafy vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fresh fish and nuts.
The key to prevention of most problems that result in vision loss is early detection, so I encourage you to schedule an eye exam today.
Dr. Clay Bundrick, M.D., ophthalmologist, is board-certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology. His local Shreveport/ Bossier City practice is affiliated with Highland Clinic Ophthalmology in the Ashley Ridge business development. Dr. Bundrick is accepting new patients and can be reached at 795-4770 to schedule an appointment.