It is safe to assume that many readers of this newsletter put on their reading glasses first! For most of us, vision changes seem to be noticed in our 40’s. We may have first noticed difficulty reading the fine print on a label or perhaps a restaurant menu, particularly when lights are dim. As we age, our eyes are susceptible to various health issues, some common and others more serious.
Reading with a sense of eye strain in middle age results from presbyobia. This common rite of passage for our eyes occurs when the lens can no longer change shape enough to allow the eye to focus clearly on close objects. (The lens is a clear part of the eye that helps to focus light, or an image, on the retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.) Presbyobia is commonly addressed with “cheaters” or reading glasses, and sometimes prescription glasses are needed. The lens power may increase as we age.
Many people experience symptoms of dry eye—the inability to produce sufficient tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears help reduce the risk of eye infections, wash away foreign objects, and keep the surface of the eyes smooth and clear. Over-the-counter eye drops can be effective in replacing natural tears. It is also helpful to keep the humidity level high in your home, stay well hydrated, and wear sunglasses outside to protect against the drying wind and sun. If working at a computer screen for long periods of time, remember to blink regularly.
More than half of people age 65 and older have some form of cataracts, often referred to as an age-related eye disease. Cataracts are formed when the lens of the eye begins to cloud. The lens is composed mainly of water and protein arranged to keep the lens clear and let light pass through it. Cataracts are formed when these proteins cluster together and begin to cloud part of the lens. The cataract can grow larger over time, clouding a larger part of the lens and affecting our vision more seriously. Smoking, diabetes and prolonged exposure to the sun also increases risk for cataracts. In more advanced cases, surgery is required. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), cataract removal is one of the most common operations performed in the United States, with improved vision seen in 90% of the cases.
Some eye conditions that are considered more serious and may to lead to blindness. These include diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma.
Diabetic retinopathy results from changes in the retina’s blood vessels, which can swell and leak fluid. In some cases, abnormal new blood vessels may grow on the retina’s surface. These changes are only visible through a comprehensive eye exam and early intervention is critical. Once a person is diagnosed with diabetes, a complete eye exam is recommended with annual exams thereafter.
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is most common in people age 50 and older and gradually causes vision loss in the central field of vision. AMD destroys the macula, located at the center of the retina, making it difficult to recognize faces, close objects or to drive, although peripheral vision may be retained. AMD can result in loss of vision in one or both eyes.
Glaucoma causes damage to the eye’s optic nerve when drainage canals become blocked over time. African-Americans, people over 60 and those with a family history of the disease are at higher risk. Glaucoma can result in blindness. Without treatment, people slowly lose their peripheral vision.
The NEI recommends several steps to help maintain eye health. Schedule a comprehen – sive, dilated eye exam at least once every two years and know your family eye disease history. Many serious as well as common eye problems can only be detected with a thorough exam. Wear protective eyewear when appropriate, such as home improvement projects or if required at work. Protect eyes from ultra violet rays by wearing sunglasses outdoors. Don’t smoke. Finally, eat healthy! A diet that includes fruits and vegetables, as well as fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids, has proven beneficial for our eyes.