~ Eyes Right - How to Keep Your Eyes Healthy and Preserve Your Vision

Richmond Times-Dispatch, 09-14-05

Most people expect to encounter gray hairs, a wrinkle here and there, and aches and pains from arthritis or old sports injuries.

But aging eyes have a way of sneaking up on people.

What's more, serious ailments, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, might develop so gradually, people don't notice symptoms until they have lost much of their vision.

Whether you're cruising along in your career, tackling a midlife crisis or welcoming grandchildren, you might want to get a look at what life has to offer starting at middle age. Presbyopia, or "old eyes," has fortysomethings with "drugstore glasses" -- basically magnifying lenses -- perched on the end of their noses to alternate looking through the glasses to read fine print and looking up at distant objects.

Even at that stage, you need regular eye examinations by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases. An optometrist, though not a physician, is trained to detect and treat vision conditions with spectacles, contact lenses, low vision aids and vision therapy.

Many conditions can affect aging eyes. The most common are:

  • Floaters: Those "spots, cobwebs, spiders" are particles that float in the vitreous fluid of the eye. They're a normal part of aging but also can occur with detachments of the vitreous, inflammation and retinal tears. More at www.nei.nih.gov.

  • Dry eyes: That gritty, dry feeling in one or both eyes is caused by decreased tear production that is more common as you age, though it is often connected to various diseases. More at www.nlm.nih.gov.

  • Cataracts: The clouding, thickening or yellowing of the lens of the eyes, causing dimmed vision and, if untreated, blindness. Cataracts are common with aging but also can be related to heredity, injuries, diseases and other causes. More at www.allaboutvision.com.

  • Glaucoma: Typically, pressure in the eyeball rises, damaging the optic nerve and causing blindness if untreated. More at www.afb.org.

  • Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD: An age-related condition that causes the loss of central vision, color vision and difficulty reading and recognizing faces. More at www.macular-degeneration.org.

Keep Eyes Healthy

Vision changes come with normal aging, but you can help keep your eyes as healthy as possible:

  • Don't smoke: Smoking increases the risk for many eye disorders, primarily by damaging tiny blood vessels.

  • Control diabetes, hypertension: Keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control. Get regular eye exams.

  • Wear shades: Use sunglasses with protection from ultraviolet rays.

  • Eat well: Eat a healthful, balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Get in shape: Obesity is a risk factor for a number of eye conditions, among other woes.

  • Supplements: To help preserve vision, especially if you are at risk for macular degeneration, ask your doctor about taking a dietary supplement with special nutrients for your eyes.

  • Eyesight changes: Be alert to vision changes, such as difficulty reading or distinguishing faces or colors, loss of peripheral vision or seeing straight lines that appear wavy.

Sources: Drs. M. Edward Wilson, Cindy Snell and Rick Milne, of Columbia, S.C.; "The Johns Hopkins Medical Guide to Health After 50"; Linda H. Lamb.

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