When it comes to eyesight, it is normal to experience changes as you age. Once you reach 50 and beyond, vision screenings are not only beneficial, but it is also important to receive a comprehensive eye exam every two to four years as a preventative measure.
As you age, you are more likely to develop common eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. A vision screening will not only test your eyesight and provide a prescription for glasses or contacts, but it also allows the doctor to check the actual health of your eye and measure any changes.
If you understand the symptoms and causes, and practice prevention, it can help mitigate some of the risks for eye disease. At the very least, vision screenings can help identify disease earlier and provide treatments when needed. While the various eye conditions differ, being proactive is essential for prevention. Here we put together information to help you understand the differences and what you can do to help prevent.
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a common condition that blurs your central vision due to damage of the macula, which is the region within the eye that is responsible for precise, straight-ahead vision. AMD does not lead to complete blindness, although, it makes it much more difficult to see faces, read, drive, or do near-sighted tasks. Depending on the individual, the onset of AMD can be slow or rapid. If you are diagnosed early with AMD, it is likely you will not experience vision loss for a long time, which why regular vision screenings are crucial.
There are two types of Age-related Macular Degeneration. Dry AMD is most common. It occurs in three stages: early, intermediate, and late. There are treatment options available for the intermediate stage, but early and late dry AMD has yet to have an applicable solution. The second type, Wet AMD, only occurs in a late stage and frequently causes more rapid vision loss.
Symptoms of AMD include:
- Straight lines appearing crooked or wavy
- Blurry area or blank spots in your central vision
- Difficulty seeing in low lighting
- Colors not appearing as vibrant
AMD typically appears more in people 55 and older. People that are Caucasian, individuals with a family history of AMD, or smokers are at higher risk of AMD.
Prevention for AMD
To lower the risk or severity of AMD there are a few steps to take. Firs, eating a healthy diet of leafy greens and fish is always good for the body and eyes such as leafy greens and fish. Regular exercise or physical activity, maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and ceasing smoking habits also helps minimize the risk for AMD and other illnesses. Treatments for intermediate Dry AMD and late Wet AMD are available in the form of prescription medications, supplements, injections, photodynamic therapy (PDT), and laser eye surgery.
More than half of Americans aged 80 and older develop cataracts or undergo surgery for cataracts. While it is a common age-related condition, the good news is it can be easily resolved with surgery.
The onset of the disease begins as early as age 40, when the proteins in the lens of the eye begin to break down and combine, eventually creating a noticeably cloudy area on the lens of the eye that can make vision blurry, hazy, or less vibrant.
Like AMD, cataract symptoms are relatively unnoticeable and mild, until it progresses and causes changes in vision. Some signs of cataracts include:
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Cloudy or blurry vision
- Seeing a halo appear around lights
- Becoming sensitive to bright lights or the sun
- Seeing things in double vision
Everyone is at risk for cataracts as they age, yet individuals with certain health problems such as diabetes, those who smoke or drink alcohol heavily, have a family history of cataracts, previously had an eye injury or surgery, have undergone radiation therapy in the upper body, spent excessive time in the sun, or took steroids are at a higher risk.
Cataracts can be delayed or prevented by regularly wearing sunglasses regularly, ceasing smoking and drinking habits, eating fruits and vegetables (especially dark leafy greens), and getting dilated eye exam regularly. Beyond age 60, it’s beneficial to get an exam and vision screening at least once every two years. The only treatment option for cataracts is surgery.
Individuals with diabetes are at risk of developing Diabetic Retinopathy and potentially experiencing vision loss or blindness. The cause is high blood sugar due to a diabetes. Over time, consistently high levels of blood sugar can damage the retina, which is the part of the eye that detects light and sends signals to the brain via the optic nerve. Diabetes causes harm to blood vessels throughout the body, and the damage to the eyes ensues once glucose begins to block the small vessels leading to the retina, causing them to leak fluid or bleed. To compensate for the loss of one vessel, the body creates a weaker blood vessel to take its place and the cycle of leaking continues.
Diabetic Retinopathy does not always present symptoms at first, but people will eventually notice alterations in their vision, like difficulty reading and seeing far-sighted objects. However, as the condition develops, blood vessels begin to bleed into the gel-like fluid in the inner part of the eye which causes dark, floating spots or streaks that look like webbing.
Anyone with Type1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes can develop Diabetic Retinopathy, and the longer you have diabetes, the more at-risk you become. However, the risk can be lowered by properly managing your diabetes and blood sugar, staying physically active, eating healthy, and taking any necessary diabetic prescriptions. To help control blood sugar, it’s important to get an A1C test, which measures what percentage of your hemoglobin is glycated (sugar-infused) over a three-month period. The higher the result, the more likely you are for developing diabetic complications.
If you are diagnosed with Diabetic Retinopathy, it’s crucial to begin treatment as soon as possible. Without treatment, bleeding can continue, worsen, or cause scarring to the retina. Treatments include diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol management, injections, medicinal prescriptions, laser eye treatment to reduce swelling, and an eye surgery known as a vitrectomy. Treatment cannot reverse the damage, but it can prevent it from worsening.
Glaucoma is a grouping of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve in the back of the eye, leading to vision loss or blindness. The only way to be diagnosed is with a dilated eye exam, and although there is no treatment for curing glaucoma, identifying it at an early stage can protect your vision and prevent further damage.
Glaucoma typically does not have symptoms, which is why many individuals don’t know they have it until they begin to slowly lose vision over time, starting with peripheral vision. As the condition worsens, some may not be able to see from the side at all and could eventually reach blindness if it goes untreated. There aren’t any ways to prevent glaucoma, which is why regulatory eye exams are of key importance to identify the issue before it affects your vision.
People over the age of 60, that have a family history of glaucoma, or are Black or Hispanic/Latino and over the age of 40 have a higher risk for contracting the disease. The cause of glaucoma is unknown, but many believe it has to do with high eye pressure, so treatments to lower pressure have been formulated to prevent damage to the optic nerve. Other treatments include medicines, prescription eye drops, laser eye treatment, and occasionally undergoing surgery to drain fluid from the eye.
The two common traits for all eye diseases are the symptoms and the preventative measures. Issues with vision are a sign that something is wrong and the best way to diagnose the problem is with a comprehensive eye exam. Once a diagnosis is made the eye doctor can recommend treatment options for the condition or stage. Finally, if you are 50 years or older, it is time to schedule regular exams and vision screenings as a first step in prevention.