In our 20’s and 30’s eye health may seem to consist of seeing an optometrist once a year to update our prescription. We protect our eyes with sunglasses and avoid staring at device screens too long, but as we reach our 40’s and 50’s, we have new vision challenges that may be just around the corner.
Fortunately, most age-related vision issues are preventable and treatable if you take simple steps to protect your eyes. Let’s explore 5 vision-impacting conditions to be on the look out for as you age.
1) Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
2% of people over 50 have AMD. By 85, the number reaches 20%1.
AMD impacts the center of the retina, called the macula. The retina is a layer of tissue in the back of your eye. It’s made up of cells that are sensitive to light. With the retina’s help, you can see light.
People with this condition find that straight lines seem curved and colors seem darker. It makes it very difficult to do things you need to do to get around like:
- Remember Faces
Because the macula is in the center of the retina, those with the condition lose the center part of their vision.
To prevent AMD, you should manage your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Each of these is a risk factor. Some forms have been linked to light exposure so don’t forget your sunglasses when you go outside.
Getting regular screenings for AMD is vital in middle age. AMD happens very gradually so it’s hard for a person to detect. When caught early, worsening can be prevented.
By the age of 80, half of people have or had cataracts2. But they can affect people much younger in certain circumstances.
Cataracts are a cloudiness that develops on the lens of the eye. Just like a camera lens, your eye lens helps you focus light to see better. The lens doesn’t work well when cloudy. Try breathing on a camera lens and see what happens.
Cataracts make the world appear out of focus.
Smoking, heavy alcohol usage and diabetes are three suspected causes. To prevent cataracts avoid 1st and 2nd hand smoke.
Use alcohol moderately, if at all, and follow doctor’s orders regarding diabetes management if you have this condition.
3) Diabetic eye disease / diabetic retinopathy
Diabetes causes blood vessels to swell and become leaky. In an attempt to keep the blood flowing properly, new blood vessels form on the retina. This isn’t normal. Eventually, the retina will lose its ability to process light signals.
Preventing & treating diabetic retinopathy
The most important thing you can do to prevent this is to avoid developing diabetes. If you already have diabetes, then managing the condition with lifestyle and medication will help reduce your risk.
An annual comprehensive dilated exam at your optometrist will help detect the condition early before blindness occurs.
Glaucoma is a condition characterized by a buildup of pressure behind the eye that causes damage to the optic nerve. If this pressure is allowed to build and remain, it will cause vision loss.
The cause of glaucoma isn’t known. We do know that it’s often passed down in families, and it appears to be a circulatory issue. When fluids can’t flow properly, they build up in areas.
Because we don’t know exactly what causes it, we don’t know exactly how to prevent it. As with many conditions, proper diet and exercise will help reduce your risk.
What you can do is prevent glaucoma from stealing your vision. An annual dilated vision exam will detect it so that you can begin treatments to reduce the pressure.
5) Dry eye
Yes, dry eye is a real condition. If you have certain risk factors, your tear production may no longer be sufficient to keep your eyes lubricated. This lubricant not only makes your eyes more comfortable; it also protects your vision. Dry eye has many causes5. Among them:
- Vitamin A deficiency
- Auto-immune disorders like lupus, RA or MS
- Some medications
- Living in a very arid or windy environment.
Preventing & treating dry eye
Your doctor may choose to change your medication if dry eye is severe. Protecting the eyes with glasses when in extreme climates can also help.
Your doctor may prescribe medicated eye drops to increase tear production or otherwise lubricate your eyes.
Eye health as you age
Eye health is important regardless of your age. But as you get older, it’s time to take extra steps to preserve your vision. Each of these major vision conditions is treatable and catching it early can reduce vision loss.
See your optometrist annually to be screened for these and other conditions. Keep your vision to maintain your active lifestyle and quality of life.