Keeping Your Eyes Healthy as You Age

Here’s what you need to know to help keep your eyes healthy as you age.

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Vision plays a large role in our experience of the world, but sadly, it tends to deteriorate as we age. According to the CDC, 3.3 million adults over the age of 40 have poor vision or are blind, and another 61 million are at high risk for serious vision loss. But there is hope. There are many ways to protect your eyes and keep them healthy well into your later years. Here’s what you need to know to help keep your eyes healthy as you age.

Know Your Family History
Many eye conditions are hereditary. For example, if your parents or grandparents suffered from cataracts, you might also be at risk for developing them. Sharing information like this with your eye doctor can help them as they care for your eyes. They can conduct specific tests to check for any early signs of diseases they might not normally look for. Since you likely won’t notice the early signs of vision loss yourself, having a doctor take a look with specialized equipment is essential for identifying and treating conditions as early as possible.

Get Examined
Although eye exams are important at every age, everyone over the age of 50 should be sure to have an eye exam with dilation every year. The eye drops used for dilation will open up your iris wide enough for the eye doctor to see through to the back of your eye where your retina is. Damage to the retina can lead to permanent vision loss. Those with diabetes are especially prone to this sort of damage, so an annual eye exam is even more essential for them. The key is early prevention. If your doctor identifies a problem early enough, they can often treat it and minimize or avoid vision loss.

Don’t Assume its Normal
There is a temptation to ignore changes in your vision or to chalk them up to the aging process. However, it’s important to note any change in your vision, because it could represent a disease that’s preventable or treatable if caught early. The best course of action is to schedule an eye exam with your doctor to make sure you’re taking the proper steps toward healthy eyes and clear vision.

Know the Warning Signs
While eye emergencies are relatively rare, it’s helpful to know when you should go to the emergency room and when you can wait a day or two for an appointment with your doctor. Here’s a general guide to help you decide how to proceed:

Seek attention immediately if you have:
• Sharp pain and redness in the eye
• Sudden, partial or total vision loss in one or both eyes
• Double or distorted vision
• Experienced trauma of any kind to the eye
• The sensation of a shade or curtain being drawn across your field of vision

The following symptoms can probably wait a day or two:
• Trouble seeing objects on the sides of your visual field
• Trouble seeing at night or reading in dim light
• Trouble telling the difference between colors
• Blurring of objects that are far away or near
• Itchy or watery eyes

If in doubt, don’t hesitate to call your eye doctor or primary physician.

Change Your Lifestyle
There are many everyday things you can do to both protect your eyes from damage and reduce your risk of developing certain eye diseases.
• Wear your glasses. This helps reduce eye strain and fatigue that can lead to eye irritation.
• Wear sunglasses when you’re outside, even when it may not be sunny. UV rays can damage your eyes even when it’s cloudy outside.
• Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. These foods contain nutrients needed to protect and replenish the eye. Green leafy vegetables in particular carry nutrients that help prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is a leading cause of blindness in America.
• Quit smoking. Smokers are more likely to develop cataracts, AMD, and uveitis that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment.
• Keep conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol under control. All of these conditions can damage the eyes if left untreated.

Taking a preventive approach to your eye health and seeing your eye doctor every year are the best ways to keep your eyes healthy as you get older.

Provided by VSP