Which health screenings and exams are top priorities for you? If you’re like most adults, monitoring your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure is probably part of your health care routine. But what about vision care?
When adults reach their 40s, they often start to notice small changes in their vision, which can impact their daily lives and job performance. Whether having difficulty reading a book or working on a computer screen, such changes can be frustrating, but they can often be addressed by an eye care professional.
A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to detect diseases and conditions that can cause vision loss and blindness. That’s because many have no symptoms in their early stages.
According to the National Eye Institute, all adults aged 60 and older should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam, with the exception of African Americans, who are advised to get the exams starting at age 40 due to a higher risk of developing glaucoma at an earlier age. Even if you haven’t experienced any issues with your sight, a dilated exam can detect serious eye diseases and conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic eye disease, and glaucoma.
During a dilated eye exam, your eye care professional places drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil. This lets more light enter the eye, similar to the way an open door lets more light into a dark room and allows your eye care professional to get a good look at the back of your eyes to examine them for any signs of damage or disease.
Regular eye exams go a long way in helping you see well for a lifetime. But there is more you can do. Experts at the National Eye Institute recommend following these additional steps to protect your vision.
1. Live a healthy lifestyle. Living an overall healthy life is good for your eyes. This includes:
Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions, which can lead to vision loss from diabetic eye disease or glaucoma.
Eating healthy foods. You’ve heard carrots are good for your eyes, but eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping your eyes healthy, too. Research has also shown there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, and halibut.
Not smoking. Smoking is as bad for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. Research has linked smoking to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.
2. Know your family history. Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It’s important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with an eye disease or condition since many are hereditary. This will help to determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
3. Use protective eyewear. Protect your eyes when playing sports, working with hazardous materials, or doing chores like mowing the lawn. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of polycarbonate, which is 10 times stronger than other plastics. Many eye care providers sell protective eyewear, as do some sporting goods stores.
4. Wear sunglasses. Sunglasses are a great fashion accessory, but their most important job is to protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. When purchasing sunglasses, look for ones that block out 99 to 100 percent of both UV-A and UV-B radiation. Exposure to excess sunlight can increase your risk of cataract and age-related macular degeneration, tissue growth on the white part of eye that can cause discomfort and blurred vision.
Common Eye Diseases and Conditions
Just as the rest of your body ages, so do the eyes. The following are common diseases and conditions associated with aging that can be detected with proper monitoring from an eye care professional:
Cataract. People who experience this clouding of the lens in the eye often report increased glare and fading of colors.
Diabetic eye disease. A complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness, its most common form is diabetic retinopathy, which happens when the disease damages small blood vessels inside the retina.
Dry eye. Dry eye can feel like stinging or burning, and can lead to blurred vision or even vision loss if left untreated.
Glaucoma. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease.
Age-related Macular Degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that blurs the sharp, central vision you need for “straight-ahead” activities such as reading, sewing, and driving. AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail.
You can find more information on these preventive measures and dozens of other vision-related topics at www.nei.nih.gov.
Photos courtesy of Getty Images