Your vision is your most important sense and protecting your eyesight is important. One in six adults ages 45 and over are affected by a sight-threatening eye condition, and the risk for eye disease and vision loss only increases with age.
A recent study by the American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that more than 43 million Americans will develop age-related eye diseases by 2020. The leading causes of blindness in the US are age-related diseases such as macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma; All of which can be treated much more effectively if caught in the early stages of the disease. Regular eye exams and practicing the recommendations below are essential to protecting your eyesight as you age.
1) Research your family's health history.
Discover if you are at higher risk for eye diseases based on hereditary traits passed down from your family. Do you or a family member suffer from diabetes? Or do you have a history of high blood pressure? Are you over the age of 65? Are you an African-American over the age of 40? Any of these traits increase your risk for eye diseases and vision loss. Regular eye exams are particularly important, because an early diagnosis can limit any potential sight threatening complications and help preserve your eyesight. Genetic testing is available for many common conditions.
2) Quit smoking.
The life threatening dangers of smoking are well known, but what can be surprising to many is the effect it can have on your eyes. When it comes to vision health, people who smoke are at higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, uveitis and other eye complications including blindness from a stoke of the retina and/or optic nerve.
3) Eat a well balanced diet.
Eat your carrots and you will be able to see in the dark, right? Well, not necessarily. But eating a healthy diet does benefit the health of your eyes. Studies have proven that antioxidants can reduce the risk of macular degeneration. Antioxidants can be obtained by eating a diet of fruits and colorful or dark green vegetables.
Studies have also shown that eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce your risk of developing macular degeneration. Also, consider supplementing your diet with eye vitamins to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of the nutrients needed for healthy eyes.
4) Exercise every day. Studies suggest that regular exercise — even walking — can reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration by up to 70 percent. Shoot for at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity to feel better... and see better!
5) Look for changes in your vision. If you start noticing changes in your vision, see your optometrist immediately. Some examples of things to look for include: double vision, cloudy vision, and difficulty seeing in low light environments. Indicators of potentially serious vision issues that warrant immediate attention include: red eyes, frequent flashes of light, floaters, sudden vision loss, blind spots, eye pain and/or swelling.
6) Wear sunglasses and protect your eyes from harmful UV light. When outdoors, always wear sunglasses that shield your eyes from 100 percent of the sun's harmful ultraviolet A and B rays. Even if it is an overcast or cloudy day, UV lights can still damage your eyes. Wearing your shades will help reduce your risk of cataracts, pinguecula and other eye issues, including skin cancers of the eyelid.
7) Have regular physical examinations to screen for high blood pressure and diabetes. If left untreated, these diseases can lead to eye problems. Particularly, high blood pressure and diabetes can cause vision loss from diabetic retinopathy, eye strokes and macular degeneration.
8) Keep it clean. Wash your hands and your contact lenses properly. To avoid the risk of eye infections, always wash your hands with soap and warm water before putting in or taking out your contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate. Never use tap water to clean your contacts and routinely replace contact lens cases if you notice any build up or dirt.
9) Give it a rest. Take breaks during long hours of computer work. Try to take a 15-minute break away from your computer every two hours, and rest your eyes every twenty minutes by looking around at other objects other than the bright computer screen. Be sure to give yourself good lighting to work in whether reading, writing or working on the computer. Dim lighting causes strain and because your eyes have to work harder, leading to eye fatigue and headaches. To avoid strain, take breaks, turn on a few lights and be sure to blink often to refresh and moisten your eyes.
10) Have an eye exam twice a year. A comprehensive eye exam, including dilating your pupils or having an Optomap photograph taken, can determine your risk for major eye diseases such as glaucoma (which has few warning signs or symptoms). An eye exam also can ensure that your vision is stable and your prescription current so that you're seeing as good as possible.
Although there is no guarantee of perfect vision even if you follow all of these recommendations, maintaining an active lifestyle and having regular vision exams throughout your lifetime will decrease the odds of vision loss and complications. Early detection is key in correcting vision compilations and regular examinations will help maintain your sight.
Andrew Biondo, OD, FSLS is the Primary Medical Director at Kirkwood Eye Associates in Kirkwood, MO. Serving the greater St. Louis area, Dr. Biondo has 12 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator & consultant to the specialty contact lens industry. His special interests include contact lenses, dry eye disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration, laser eye surgery & preventive vision care.