You may think that your eyesight is fine — that the occasional squinting to make things clearer is just a part of getting older or just due to tired eyes. Yet, because we experience a lot of the world through our eyes, we must keep our eyes healthy. Keep your eyes in mind when planning out your yearly health checkups.
Some eye diseases may have no symptoms at all when developing and can go unnoticed for years, even until irreversible eye damage has been done. So early diagnosis and treatment are extremely critical for common eye diseases associated with age.
One of those diseases is cataracts—a clouding of the lens that can lead to vision loss. By eating a healthier diet of leafy greens, fruits, nuts, and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and by limiting sun exposure, you can slow down the progression of the disease. An early diagnosis of cataracts can help you and your doctor plan the best treatment options.
Age-related macular degeneration can also be seen with increasing age. Although this disease has a slow progression, it can lead to a decrease in central vision, and ultimately blindness, if not diagnosed early by an eye doctor.
Comorbidities such as diabetes put patients at a greater risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, damage to the blood vessels that supply the retina in the back of the eye. Regular eye exams are especially important in these cases, since the duration of diabetes is the main factor for the development of diabetic retinopathy. Sugar control is paramount to prevent diabetic retinopathy, and a doctor can help manage this, especially early on.
Glaucoma is another eye condition that benefits from early diagnosis because if it is left unchecked, it can lead to vision loss in the affected eye. Risk factors for glaucoma include having a family history of the disease, being African-American, or being older than 60 years of age.
The American Optometric Association recommends the following eye examination frequency.
In addition to getting a regular eye exam, it is also important to know your family’s eye history, since family history may affect the likelihood of the development of eye diseases such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.
Protect your eyes from the sun, and wear sunglasses that block out UV-A and UV-B rays when spending time outside, as UV light has been shown to increase the risk of developing cataracts and conjunctival abnormal growths called pinguecula or a pterygium that may cause visual discomfort.
Finally, protect your eyes if you spend a lot of time focusing on any digital screen. If you work in front of a computer screen the whole day or stare at a cellphone or tablet for prolonged periods of time, take frequent breaks using the 20-20-20 rule, developed by the American Optometric Association and recommended internationally. It recommends taking breaks every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, to stare at an object 20 feet away to allow your eyes to refocus.
So remember, speak with your loved ones about your eyes, eat a healthy balanced diet, minimize sun exposure, get yearly physical exams, and make sure to get your eyes checked regularly so you can continue experiencing the world to its fullest.
Author: Gabriel Espinoza, MD, has experience in caring for patients in critical care, primary care, and emergency settings. Read more on her author page.
Comprehensive eye exams. AOA.org. https://www.aoa.org/healthy-eyes/caring-for-your-eyes/eye-exams?sso=y. Accessed December 6, 2020.
Keep an Eye on Your Vision Health. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/resources/features/keep-eye-on-vision-health.html. Published October 1, 2020. Accessed December 6, 2020.
Kollias, AN, Ulbig MW. Diabetic retinopathy: Early diagnosis and effective treatment. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2010;107(5):75-84. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2010.0075