Why You Need to Know About Senior Eye Health

It’s a fact of life that our body changes as we grow older. Exercise and good nutrition can help us stay healthy, but we still need to watch out for a few things. 

Eye health is one area of senior health that sometimes get neglected. Many eye conditions develop without noticeable symptoms. Untreated, some of these can cause serious issues, so prevention is key.

The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

We know that we need to see our primary care doctor for regular physicals. Did you know that you should see your eye doctor regularly as well? Most ophthalmologists recommend yearly exams, for good reason. 

  • Many eye conditions have no early symptoms. This means the condition can advance to the point of damaging your eyes without you noticing anything wrong.
  • Vision changes over time. If you have ever worn glasses for near-sightedness, you know that you may need a new prescription every year or two. Having the wrong prescription can cause eye strain and headaches.
  • Eyes may be the window to the soul, but they can be a window into your health as well. Eye exams can reveal underlying conditions such as diabetes, vascular disease, and Vitamin A deficiency. 

Common Eye Conditions

Cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration are some of the most common eye health issues experienced for seniors. Other conditions include retinal detachment and dry-eye. They all have one thing in common---early detection is important.

Cataracts Cataracts occur when the lens part of your eye begins to cloud over or yellow, Symptoms include blurry vision, double vision, and poor night vision. Some estimates state that nearly half of us will develop cataracts by age eighty. Aging is the main risk factor for cataracts. Other causes include steroid medication and diabetes.

Caught early enough, a change in your eyeglass prescription may help. More advanced cataracts may require surgery. During cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is replaced with a clear implant. It is one of the most common, and remarkably fast, surgeries performed in the U.S.

Glaucoma Untreated glaucoma can cause vision loss and blindness. When fluid builds up in your eye it creates pressure on your optic nerve, causing glaucoma. Glaucoma can develop very slowly, or it can come as an acute attack. Acute symptoms such as blurry vision, severe eye pain, or suddenly seeing halos around lights require immediate medical attention. Regular eye exams can catch glaucoma before it causes problems with your vision. 

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) There are two types of age-related macular degeneration---wet and dry. Wet AMD is more serious, though less common. In both, peripheral vision remains the same, but central vision is affected. When you look directly at something, you can only see the edges. Treatments are limited, but early detection provides the most treatment options.

Retinal Detachment When retinal detachment occurs, the retina tears away from the surrounding tissue. The detachment cuts off blood and oxygen to your retina. Symptoms of retinal detachment include seeing floaters (which look like tiny specks floating across the eye), seeing flashes of light, and loss of peripheral vision. If you have these symptoms, contact eye your doctor immediately. The longer the retina is detached, the greater the risk of vision loss.

Dry Eye Dry-eye occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears. Eyes need moisture to keep dust and debris off the surface of the eye. Without this moisture, eyes can feel irritated and itchy. Not only is dry eye uncomfortable, but it can cause us to rub our eyes. Rubbing dry lids against dry eyes can damage the cornea, leading to loss of vision. Your ophthalmologist can prescribe OTC drops to ease the discomfort or, for more severe cases, prescription eye drops. 

Diabetic Retinopathy Diabetes is another risk factor for vision loss. Damaged blood vessels cause swelling and bleeding in the eye that can result in blurred central vision (as opposed to peripheral vision). Bleeding and swelling can vary in severity. Sometimes, the blood will dissolve over time. Other times, surgery is required. There are often no symptoms early in the disease, which is why it is especially important for people with diabetes to have regular eye exams.

Everyday Care for Your Eyes

In addition to getting regular eye exams, there are many things you can do every day to protect the health of your eyes.

  • Eat nutrient-dense foods, especially fruits and vegetables with dark colors. Mom was right-carrots really are good for your eyes!
  • Give your eyes a rest. When doing close work such as reading or sewing, take a break every thirty or so minutes. A minute or two should do it.
  • Try yoga for your eyes. Gently rolling your eyes skyward or moving your eyes (not your head) side to side can ease eye strain. 
  • Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.
  • Go easy on the screens---especially phones and computers that we tend to use up close. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: After 20 minutes on a screen, gaze at something roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

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