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Aging and Your Eyes

Since your 40s, you probably noticed that your vision is changing. Perhaps you need glasses to see up close or you have more trouble adjusting to glare or distinguishing some colors. These changes are a normal part of aging. These changes alone should not stop you from enjoying an active lifestyle or stop you from maintaining your independence.

In fact, you can live an active life well into your golden years without ever experiencing severe vision loss. But as you age, you are at higher risk of developing age-related eye diseases and conditions such as cataract, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and dry eye.

Common Age-related Eye Diseases and Conditions

Cataract

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Vision with cataract can appear cloudy or blurry, colors may seem faded and you may notice a lot of glare. Surgery is the only effective way of treating cataract. However, a cataract only needs to be removed when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities. Once you understand the benefits and risks of surgery, you can make an informed decision about when cataract surgery is right for you. In most cases, delaying cataract surgery will not cause long-term damage to your eye or make the surgery more difficult. You do not have to rush into surgery.

Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes. It is the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide. The most common form is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina resulting in internal bleeding and scar formation. There are often no symptoms in the early stages. By the time significant diabetic retinopathy changes occur, you will experience blurred vision or floaters. All patients with diabetes will eventually develop retinopathy.

However, you can greatly reduce your risk by ensuring good control of not just your blood sugar but also your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, stopping smoking and regular exercise. It is also mandatory that all people with diabetes should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least annually. Although treatment options are available for diabetic retinopathy such as laser, intraocular injections and surgery, visual outcome are generally poor with late presentation.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve of the eye. It is a silent thief of sight, stealing the peripheral vision leaving a central tunnel vision as the end result. It is usually associated with high pressure in the eye. Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma and vision lost from the disease cannot be restored. Glaucoma treatments include anti-glaucoma eyedrops, lasers, surgery, or a combination of any of these. Studies have shown that early detection and treatment, before major vision loss occurs, is the best way to control the disease.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

AMD is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. As people get older, the risk increases. Some lifestyle choices, like smoking, are linked to AMD although it remains unknown if altering any of these would alter the impact of AMD on an individual. Nevertheless, avoiding smoking, exercising, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and eating a healthy diet rich in green, leafy vegetables, fruits and fish may have an impact on AMD and certainly promote healthy living.

Currently, no treatment exists for early stage AMD, which in many people are asymptomatic. If your condition gets worse, your ophthalmologist may suggest that you take a specific high-dose supplement that contains antioxidants and zinc which may slow its progression. If your AMD is complicated by bleeding, you will need treatment with intraocular injections of anti-VEGF which need to be administered monthly for a period of time until the disease stabilizes. Less common options of treatment include photodynamic therapy or laser.

Coping with AMD and vision loss can be a traumatic experience. This is especially true of those who have just begun to lose their vision or have low vision. Having low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing can all seem challenging. However, help is available. You may not be able to restore your vision, but low vision services can help you make the most of what is remaining. You can continue enjoying friends, family, hobbies, and other interests just as you always have. The key is not delaying use of these services.

Dry Eye

Dry eye occurs commonly in the elderly when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. Dry eye can make it more difficult to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period of time.

It is important to lubricate the eyes regularly with Artificial tears to prevent cornea complications. In some patients, supplements or dietary sources (such as tuna fish) or omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA and EPA) may decrease symptoms of irritation. Wearing glasses or sunglasses that fit close to the face (wrap around shades) or that have side shields can help slow tear evaporation from the eye surface. Indoors, an air cleaner to filter dust and other particles can help to prevent dry eyes. A humidifier also may help by adding moisture to the air. Avoid dry conditions and allow your eyes to rest when performing activities that require you to use your eyes for long periods of time.

Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam

Everyone aged 50 or older should visit an eye care professional for a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Many eye diseases have no early warning signs or symptoms, but a dilated exam can detect eye diseases in their early stages before vision loss occurs. Early detection and treatment can help you save your sight. Even if you aren’t experiencing any vision problems, visit your eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. He or she will tell you how often you need to have one depending on your specific risk factors.

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