Keeping Your Eyes Healthy at Any Age
The eyes are the windows to the soul, but they’re also the windows to our health. While most Americans fear losing their vision more than other serious ailments like cancer, stroke and heart disease, they know a lot less about eye health than they think they do, according to a 2020 Harris Poll. Ironically, this lack of knowledge puts them at risk for vision loss.
Survey results show that less than one in five Americans correctly identified the three main causes of blindness in the U.S. -- glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and retinopathy, a condition related to diabetes. And most Americans surveyed weren’t aware that:
- Blindness and vision loss don’t affect everyone equally.
- You may not experience symptoms before losing your vision.
- Your brain adapts to vision loss, making it difficult to recognize that you’re losing your vision.
“Many ophthalmologists are challenged with patients complaining about some vision loss during their first visit, thinking they may have a minor vision issue, when in fact, they already have advanced eye disease,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “However, the issue could have been picked up long before the initial ophthalmology visit if they got regular vision screenings and exams. Unfortunately, many adults skip them, which is why it’s included in the MDVIP Wellness Program.”
The Importance of Monitoring Your Eye Health
You should get vision screenings and eye exams throughout your life. What’s the difference? Screenings are not diagnostic. They assess problems such as vision distance, depth perception, convergence, nearsightedness, farsightedness and color blindness while at a treatable stage and provide referrals to an eye care provider for an exam.
Exams provider a deeper, more detailed look at overall ocular health and typically include looking at the conjunctiva, corneas, sclera, pupils, irises and eyelids. Your eye professional may also dilate your eyes and consider your medical history. Information obtained during an eye exam helps a doctor diagnose vision issues and eye conditions and develop a treatment plan.
Generally, there are two schedules for exams – one for those at low risk for developing an eye disease, and one for those at high risk. Here are the issues that raise your risk for eye disease, according to the American Optometric Association:
- Family history of eye diseases like glaucoma or macular degeneration
- High blood pressure
- Wearing corrective lenses, either eyeglasses or contacts
- Your race/ethnic background
- Your medications (prescription or over the counter) that may have eye-related side effects
- Any history of eye injuries
- Any history of eye surgery
- Visually demanding occupations or occupations that may involve hazards to the eyes such as firefighter, mechanic or welder
Here is the American Optometric Association’s schedule for eye examinations.
|Age in Years||Low Risk||High Risk|
|Birth to 2||One exam between 6 months and one year||One exam between 6 months and one year or as recommended|
|3 to 5||At least one exam between age 3 and 5||At least one exam between age 3 and 5, or as recommended|
|6 to 17||At least Every two years||Annually, or as recommended|
|18 to 39||At least Every two years||Annually, or as recommended|
|40 to 64||At least Every two years||Annually, or as recommended|
|65+||Annually||Annually, or as recommended|
According to Kaminetsky, “Even if you don’t think you’re experiencing vision problems, exams help identify brewing conditions, including the five known for causing age-related visual impairments -- glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, cataracts and uncorrected refractive errors.”
Many conditions, can lead to blindness. However, these five are common. And since they tend to be age-related, discuss them with your doctor, even if you think you don’t have any signs or symptoms.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – affects about 1.8 million Americans aged 40 and older and puts another 7.3 million Americans at high risk for developing it. AMD is the leading cause of permanently impaired close vision among people aged 65 and older. Symptoms include blurriness and a deterioration of sharp and central vision. Treatment includes AREDS formula, a mix of vitamins and minerals and possibly surgery. It’s not clear on how aging damages the macula, but experts believe genes and lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, being obese and eating a poor diet contribute.
Cataracts – affects about 20.5 million Americans aged 40 and older; unfortunately, this number is expected to continue increasing. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness. The primary symptom is cloudiness of the eye’s lens. Cataracts are mostly associated with aging; however, they can occur at any age, including birth. Treatment involves removing the cataract via surgery. Not all cataracts can be prevented; however, you can lower your risk for developing them by protecting your eyes from UV damage, avoiding tobacco and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR) – affects about 4.1 million Americans and close to one million have vision-threatening retinopathy. It’s the leading cause of blindness among people between ages 20 and 74. Symptoms include seeing floaters, blurred vision, fluctuating or spotty vision and vision loss. Diabetes can cause progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina, leading to retinopathy. Treatment includes diabetes management, medications such as a VEGFR inhibitor and steroids, and possibly surgery. Preventing diabetic retinopathy involves managing blood sugar and blood pressure.
Glaucoma – affects about 3 million Americans and it can lead to loss of vision and blindness. It’s a group of diseases defined by a damaged optic nerve. One form of glaucoma – open angle-- develops without symptoms. Over time, the optic nerve becomes damaged, causing a progressive waning of peripheral vision. Unfortunately, once these symptoms are noticed, the disease has advanced, causing permanent damage, which is why open angle glaucoma is referred to the “sneak thief of sight”. Close angle glaucoma develops suddenly with noticeable symptoms such as vision loss and pain. The symptoms lead most patients to seek treatment, helping to stave off permanent vision loss. Glaucoma is treated with medications and procedures that help lower the fluid pressure within the eye, preventing further damage to the optic nerve.
Uncorrected refractive errors – affects about 8 million Americans. Refractive errors are the most common type of vision problem; they make it difficult to see clearly. They occur when the shape of your eye prevents light from hitting your retina correctly. Refractive errors can be corrected with glasses, contacts or surgery. However, uncorrected refractive errors can lead to vision loss as you age.
Tips to Maintain Healthy Eyes
There are a handful of steps you can take to help maintain healthy vision, but you don’t have to go it alone. Work with your primary care doctor:
- Stay current with your vision screenings and eye exams.
- Manage conditions that can affect your vision such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Live an eye-healthy lifestyle, which includes protecting your eyes from UV rays, avoiding tobacco, eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise.
Don’t have a doctor? Consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health »