Maintaining Your Eye Health As We Age

by Janet Kelley

The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that one in six Americans ages 65 and older have a vision impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses alone.

The chances of getting an eye disease or vision impairment increases with age, and yet despite this, many older adults neglect to schedule annual or bi-annual eye exams or seek out medical attention from an ophthalmologist for proper eye care.

“As we age, there are many different conditions and diseases that may affect our eyes and vision. Some of the common age-related conditions we advise our older patients to look out for are cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. However, even if you are prone to these conditions, with early detection and treatment, we can prevent severe vision loss from occurring,” said Dr. Steven Rhee, Medical Director at Hawaiian Eye Center.

When discussing age-related health conditions, it is crucial to note that while small changes to our health are normal, vision loss and poor eye health is not. Loss of or low vision is a result of eye diseases, injuries, or both.

This means there are steps we can take to avoid or lower the risks, symptoms we may be able to spot or look out for, and most importantly, it means vision loss is NOT inevitable as we age.

Common symptoms to watch out for are loss of central and/or peripheral (side) vision, blurred or hazy vision, night blindness, or requiring harsh light to see. If you experience any of these problems, it is important to see your ophthalmologist, who will be able to check for and treat any underlying conditions.

Along with being aware and checking for symptoms of vision loss, there are also countless precautionary steps you can take (many of them are simple and yet extremely effective) to ensure good eye health and strong vision throughout your life. Our essential tips include:

Schedule regular eye exams annually
An ophthalmologist can diagnose eye diseases and instruct a treatment plan. Make sure you maintain annual or bi-annual eye exams to prevent any severe damage or irreversible vision loss.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet and take multivitamins/essential supplements as needed
By giving your body the right nutrients it needs, you can improve the metabolism in your retina, and lower the risk of severe eye problems and diseases. Foods to promote strong eye health include leafy greens, carrots, salmon, nuts, citrus, and more. It’s also important to note that research has linked simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and pasta, as well as sugar, with a higher chance of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and vision loss.

Take multivitamins/essential supplements as needed
Unfortunately, the soil is not the same as it used to be and neither is the nutrition in our foods. Deficiencies in vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12 are all associated with eye infections, eye diseases, deterioration in eye tissue, and possible vision loss. Make sure you are getting these vitamins along with others to ensure strong eye health. This should be through both diet and added vitamins or supplements as needed.

Maintain regular exercise and keep your weight steady
As we age, it is imperative to our health that we remain active and participate in some sort of regular exercise. This will increase the flow of blood and oxygen to your optic nerves and retina and is especially important for those with underlying health conditions such as glaucoma. Regular exercise also helps keep our weight in the normal range, which reduces the risk of diabetes and of diabetic retinopathy which can affect your eyesight.

Stay hydrated and maintain a daily quota of water
Our eyes are surrounded by fluid and staying hydrated is your body’s way of maintaining a healthy balance of fluid in the eye. Without adequate moisture your eyes can become dry and your tear films can become deficient, which results in irritation and blurry vision, and increases your chance of an eye infection.

Get a well-rested night’s sleep
As we sleep, our bodies go to work repairing cells in our eyes for better vision quality. Our eyes also enjoy continuous lubrication, allowing them to clear out irritants such as dust, allergens, or smoke that may have accumulated during the day. Some research suggests that light-sensitive cells in the eye are important to our ability to regulate our wake-sleep cycles.

Wear protective gear and the proper eye wear while outside
UV exposure can cause cataracts, corneal sunburn, macular degeneration, pterygium, and skin cancer around the eyelids. This damage is oftentimes irreversible but can be easily prevented by wearing proper eyewear such as sunglasses and wide brimmed hats that can block out the sun’s harmful rays.  However, we would like to note that while it’s important that we protect our eyes from over-exposure to UV light, our eyes also need exposure to some natural light every day to help maintain normal sleep-wake cycles, so we advise protective gear, eye wear, or shade.

Refrain from or quit smoking
Smoking increases your chances of macular degeneration, cataracts, and other eye diseases that can affect your vision. According to the CDC, you are 2x more likely to develop AMD compared with people who do not smoke, and 2-3x times more likely to develop cataracts compared with people who do not smoke.

Know your family’s eye health history
It may seem like an extra chore but learning your family’s health history can be the key to protecting your future! This information allows you to take the proper precautions in preventing eye threatening diseases that you and your family may be prone to.

Along with hereditary health issues, there are also systemic health problems like high blood pressure and diabetes that may be diagnosed or become more problematic in midlife as they also affect eye health.

One warning sign of both high blood pressure and diabetes is the ability to see clearly changes frequently. Be sure to keep your ophthalmologist informed about your health conditions and use of medications and nutritional supplements, as well as your exercise, eating, sleeping and other lifestyle choices.

Another factor to keep in mind is that women are more likely than men to have glaucoma and women are also more likely to be visually impaired or blind due to glaucoma.

Cataracts are also somewhat more common in women—and less likely to be treated. This means women should be sure to adhere to their ophthalmologist’s follow-up appointment recommendations and treatment plans.

Finally, we want to reiterate that the easiest and most effective step you can take as you age to prevent vision loss and maintain good eye health, is to schedule annual eye exams with your ophthalmologist, or sooner if you feel there is a concern or injury.

Having an expert check for age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and other eye conditions is the surest way to diagnose these problems and begin treating them.

We want everyone to look forward to the future as we age, and that includes strong vision for years to come!

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