Getting older changes every inch of us from our hairlines to our toenails, so it’s not surprising that our eyes change as well. Much like proper diet and exercise may be important factors in healthy aging, there are steps that may be taken to promote healthy eyes. After all, what is healthy aging without healthy vision?
Common Conditions That Affect Us As We Age
If you are on this planet long enough, chances are pretty good that you will encounter one, if not several, of the following conditions: presbyopia, cataracts, floaters and dry eye. Fortunately, simple modifications in diet and behavior, along with annual visits to your eye doctor may help mitigate these changes.
Presbyopia is the gradual loss of ability to focus on nearby objects. Typically, it sets in between the ages of 40 and 45 because the natural lens loses the ability to change focus. In response, many people turn to using brighter lighting, adjusting the font size on their digital devices or holding things farther away. If these modifications are unsuccessful, an eye care provider can prescribe reading glasses, bifocals or progressive lenses.
Cataracts are the clouding of the natural lens inside the eye over time. Although this condition may be unavoidable, certain behaviors may delay onset, like eating a healthy diet, using UV protection (i.e. hats and sunglasses) and avoidance of smoking. This condition is typically gradual, so people often go a long time without noticing a drastic change in color or clarity. But when they do, a surgeon can remove those natural lenses and insert artificial ones to suit the patient’s needs. Fortunately, cataract surgery is one of the safest and most commonly performed surgeries in the United States.
As we age, we tend to see floaters, which may appear as small moving dots or greyish lines. These occur as the vitreous humor (the clear fluid filling the space between the lens and the retina) changes from a ‘Jello’ gelatin-like consistency to being more water-like. As light enters the eye, little clumps of vitreous can cast a shadow onto the retina. Although floaters are common, a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light or a dark curtain in your field of vision require an immediate dilated exam with your eye doctor.
Many factors can contribute to dry eye, including hormonal changes and use of certain medications. Additionally, if you have spent years staring at screens without blinking properly or taking breaks, you may be especially prone. Dry eye may account for symptoms of burning, itching, redness and (believe it or not) tearing. Dry eye may be a simple nuisance or develop into a more serious condition. In these cases, a doctor may prescribe drops, drugs, procedures or plugs that keep natural lubricants on the eye longer. As always, proper rest and hydration may be important measures in dry eye control.
Eye Diseases That Prevent Healthy Aging
Two of the more concerning diseases that may afflict older people more than the young are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. To assist your overall healthy aging, familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of these eye diseases to ensure treatment at the onset.
Glaucoma, usually caused by elevated pressure in the eye, leads to damage of the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for sending information from the eye to the brain. Early detection is key as patients may be treated with eye drops and remain asymptomatic. However, as the disease progresses patients begin to lose more and more of their peripheral vision. Additionally, more invasive treatments may be needed to preserve vision before it is lost forever.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
The portion of the retina responsible for the central part of your vision is called the macula. The disease that affects this area is called Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). AMD comes in two kinds - dry and wet. In the dry form, small deposits called drusen form under the macula, which may cause a gradual distortion or deterioration to one’s vision. In contrast, ‘wet’ AMD may lead to sudden vision changes as abnormal blood vessels may bleed or leak fluid, more severely distorting the macula.
As with glaucoma, genetic factors play a significant role in AMD. That being said, be sure to share family histories with your doctor. Although you can’t change your genes, certain behaviors can reduce risk, including use of hats and sunglasses when outdoors. Additionally, a healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables containing carotenoids may be protective (as almost a ‘sunblock’ for the back of the eye). Once diagnosed with AMD, patients are often advised to begin an AREDS 2 supplement, which may reduce chances of worsening.
Diabetes Impact on Eyesight
Diabetes can impact nearly every portion of the body. The eyes are no exception. Elevated blood sugar levels may damage blood vessels in the retina. This may allow blood and fluids to leak and is classified as diabetic retinopathy. According to the CDC, "Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness in adults. This is a growing problem as the number of people living with diabetes increases, so does the number of people with impaired vision.” Similar to other serious eye conditions, an early diagnosis can limit damage.
Horizon Eye Care To Maintain Healthy Vision
As with all health conditions, doctors can more successfully treat eye diseases when diagnosed at an early stage. Therefore, we recommend annual eye exams to help promote overall healthy aging and, more specifically, good eyesight. To schedule an exam at Horizon Eye Care, use our Patient Portal or call 704-365-0555 Monday – Thursday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Friday 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.