The Importance of Eye Exams as We Age
William Shakespeare famously noted that “the eyes are the window to the soul” – our inner self – but they’re also one of the primary ways we experience the world around us.
Losing the ability to see well can come at any age through illness or accident, and while some age-related eye issues can’t be avoided, preventive measures and screenings can help minimize their impact.
The most serious eye problems are sneaky – creeping up without warning and gradually impacting our vision over time. According to doctors at the University of Alabama, vision impairment and blindness are among the top five causes of disability in older adults, so the importance of getting regular eye exams cannot be stressed enough.
Know Your Family History
If you have a relative with glaucoma or another eye disease, you are at a much higher risk to develop eye problems yourself. If diabetes runs in your family, you are also at increased risk for developing eye diseases like diabetic retinopathy. Ethnicity plays a role in risk, too. Persons of African, Asian and Hispanic descent are at greater risk for developing glaucoma in particular than are Caucasians.
Common Eye Diseases and Problems
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness throughout the world, and the number of people diagnosed with glaucoma is expected to reach 4.2 million by 2030 – that’s a 58 percent increase over the next 10 years. There are no symptoms associated with the onset of glaucoma, which is associated with abnormal pressure inside the eye. This increased pressure can damage the optic nerve causing irreversible vision loss.
Macular degeneration causes gradual loss of vision in the center of your eyesight, and is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over age 65. The problem starts when the part of the retina called the macula breaks down and/or grows new blood vessels where they do not belong.
You might notice several changes in your vision – an inability to see details, dark spots or shadows in your field of view, or noticing that straight lines seem wavy or broken.
There is no cure for macular degeneration either, but early detection and treatment can slow the progression of vision loss.
Diabetic eye diseases are a direct result of diabetes’ tendency to make blood vessels “leak”. When blood vessels in the retina break open and bleed, it causes fluid to buildup in the retina. This fluid buildup, coupled with the growth of new blood vessels which develop to take the place of the damaged vessels, can cause permanent vision loss.
The best way to avoid eye problems associated with diabetes is to control your diabetes first. Ask your doctor if there are other measures you can take to minimize your risk of developing diabetes-related eye problems such as controlling blood pressure, taking medication, and getting regular exercise.
Cataract surgery is a simple procedure, usually performed under local anesthesia. The doctor simply removes the cloudy lens through a small opening in the eye, and replaces it with a clear plastic lens. It is estimated that nearly 2 million people have cataract surgery in the US each year, making it the most frequently performed operation in the world. How often should you have an eye examination?
A comprehensive dilated eye exam is the most effective way for your health care provider to spot eye disease. Your doctor will use special eye drops to enlarge your pupil, then will look inside the eye for signs of disease.
There are five tests used to test for glaucoma, the most well-know of which is tonometry. Your doctor will use special drops to numb your eye, then apply mild pressure or a puff of air using special equipment. The test is painless and very effective in diagnosing a problem.
To maintain the best eye health possible, and to mitigate damage from silent eye diseases like glaucoma, the following examination and screening schedule is recommended.
- Before age 40, have an eye exam every two to four years
- From age 40 to 54, every one to three years
- From age 55 to 64, every one to two years
- And after age 65, every six to 12 months
Other Ways to Protect Your Eyes
- Don’t smoke
- Wear sunglasses
- Wear eye protection when working with tools or around flying debris
- A healthy lifestyle that protects you from other diseases can also help you minimize the risk of developing eye diseases.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness month, so it’s the perfect time to be tested for glaucoma and other eye problems. Keeping your eyes and vision healthy are essential to staying active and independent for years to come.