Prevention and early detection are key to keeping aging eyes healthy throughout the years
So how can you keep your eyes working their best? Here are a few ways to lower your risk of age-related eye problems.
Nearly 3 million Americans age 40 and older have glaucoma, and nearly half of them are at risk for going blind because they don’t realize they have it. Currently, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve (which transmits visual information from the eye to the brain) and often leads to vision loss and blindness. Usually caused by a buildup of pressure in the eye, anyone can develop glaucoma, although the condition is linked to certain risk factors:
- Elevated internal eye pressure (intraocular pressure)
- Being over 60
- A family history of glaucoma
- Chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure
- Thyroid disease
- Severe eye injuries or eye surgeries
- Being of African American, Irish, Russian, Japanese, Hispanic, Inuit or Scandinavian descent
- Long-term corticosteroid use
Although there is no way to prevent glaucoma, its progression can be slowed with early intervention — which is why regular eye exams are so important.
Here’s when to be screened:
- Age 40-55: Adults with no risk factors should have an initial screening exam at 40, then every 2 to 4 years.
- Age 55-65: Should be screened every 1 to 3 years.
- Age 65+: Should be screened every 1 to 2 years.
Those who have a higher risk should be screened more frequently.
Almost 25 million Americans age 40 and over have cataracts. By the time they reach age 80, more than half of all people have some form of cataracts.
Cataracts are a clouding of the eye lens that naturally occurs as we get older, due to a buildup of protein on the lens. While the condition is most common in those over age 60, cataracts are not only caused by age. Environmental factors such as exposure to UV rays, smoking and drinking alcohol may also increase the chances of developing cataracts. Some babies are born with cataracts due to genetic defects, developmental issues or exposure to rubella during pregnancy.
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent cataracts, living as healthy a lifestyle as you can may reduce your risks of getting them.
Although cataracts are extremely common, they are typically treated through a painless, safe and quick procedure that replaces the cataract with a clear artificial lens.
Cataract surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed each year and is highly successful in restoring vision.
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects about 8.5 million Americans over age 40 and is the leading cause of visual impairment for those over 50. While its cause is unknown, the late stages of this condition can lead to blindness.
Macular degeneration affects the macula, or center, of the eye’s retina, which receives the images that translate into visual signals in our brain. When the tissue is damaged, we can lose our detailed central vision.
Research and treatments for AMD continue to evolve. For instance, current findings show high levels of zinc and antioxidants can play a key role in slowing the progression of advanced AMD and that conventional laser and photodynamic therapy can reduce the risk of moderate to severe vision loss in patients with specific forms of “wet” macular degeneration.
Macular degeneration often has no warning symptoms, which is why having regular eye exams and talking with your eye doctor about vision changes is so important, especially after age 40. If you are at risk for macular degeneration, be sure to see an eye care specialist for a complete eye exam at least every one to two years.
When to see an eye doctor
You might think that if you are healthy and not having any vision issues, there’s no need to visit your eye doctor. But everyone, no matter their age or how healthy they think they are, should have an annual eye checkup.
If you’re experiencing any of the following issues, be sure to see your eye doctor:
- Blurry vision or seeing double
- Trouble reading signs or books
- Pain or redness of the eye that doesn't go away
- Feeling pressure in your eye
- Seeing spots or floaters
- Loss of peripheral or side vision
Eye health tips
Maintaining your eye health begins in your 20s and 30s, but it’s never too late to start. Here are some tips for keeping healthy eyes in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond:
- Have regular eye exams
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet
- Exercise regularly, which can address health conditions, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure, that are linked to eye conditions
- Shield your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays with sunglasses
- Stop smoking
- Wash your hands
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Limit your use of electronic and blue light devices
- Wear protective eyewear if you play sports