A Look Ahead: Protecting Your Eyesight
Though eyesight changes can come with age, there are things you can do to combat them so you’re sure to enjoy special moments in your life completely
The reality is that weakened eye health and changes in vision are a very real part of aging. For example, if you’ve found yourself holding your book farther away or experiencing more eye fatigue after reading, you’re not alone. Presbyopia, or the loss of the ability to see close objects or small print, is a normal part of aging eyes. And so is an elevated risk of these eye diseases:
Dry Eye: causes the eye to stop producing tears properly. Without a proper tear film, dust and pollen can stick to the eye and cause irritation, inflammation and blurred vision.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): gradually destroys central vision, which is needed for seeing objects clearly and for everyday tasks like reading and driving.
Cataract: or a clouding of the lens (the part of the eye that helps to focus an image on the retina), can cause glare, color distortion and cloudy or blurry vision.
Glaucoma: caused by fluid pressure on the optic nerve, reduces peripheral vision and can eventually lead to blindness.
Diabetic Retinopathy: a complication of diabetes, is caused by damage to the tiny blood vessels of the eyes, causing fluid buildup and scarring in the retina. It can result in impaired vision and eventual blindness.
These conditions are largely responsible for why more than 3.4 million Americans 40 years and older are either visually impaired or blind, a number that is expected to double by 2030 as the population ages.
While you can’t stop all age-related changes, you can take steps to protect your vision and reduce your risk of damage from serious eye conditions. In fact, taking care of your eyes is a lot like taking care of the rest of your body. As with your other organs, your eyes need regular checkups, proper nourishment and day-to-day care to be at their best.
Here’s how you can work to protect your baby blues, greens or browns:
Get Annual Eye Exams
It’s easy to postpone an eye appointment when your vision seems fine, but many age-related eye conditions have no obvious signs or symptoms. After age 40, aim for a comprehensive eye exam every year to catch problems such as glaucoma and developing cataracts early. Your ophthalmologist will decide which tests to do based on your vision concerns, age and medical history.
Incorporate Eye-Healthy Nutrients
Proper nutrition is a powerful thing, especially when it comes to protecting your eyes. Sure, you’ve heard that carrots and other orange-colored vegetables and fruits protect your vision and promote eye health (they’re loaded with beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function optimally), but here are some additional foods to try:
Leafy greens like kale and collard greens are packed with sight-saving lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that accumulate in the retina and shield the eyes from light and glare. These nutrients may help stave off AMD and cataracts. Other good sources include egg yolks, corn and spinach.
Eating just one serving a week of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, sardines and tuna) may help slash the risk of AMD by 50 percent, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Fish consumption has also been found to reduce your risk of dry eye.
A study published in JAMA Ophthalmology found that women and men who ate the greatest amount of fruit had the lowest risk of AMD. Antioxidant-rich berries are also great for lowering high blood pressure, a risk factor for AMD.
Starting your morning with a cup of java may help to ward off the negative effects of aging and diabetes on your eyes, according to a recent Cornell University study. Coffee contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant that has been shown to prevent retinal degeneration in mice.
Research also suggests that avoiding certain foods may help protect your eyesight. A diet high in simple or refined carbs with a high glycemic index—such as sugary foods and beverages and white bread and rice—appears to make eyes more vulnerable to both cataracts and AMD.
Take a Technology Break
The increasing time we spend staring at computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices can lead to dry eye disease, which affects nearly 5 million men and women over age 50 in the United States.
Remember the National Eye Institute’s 20-20-20 rule for screen-time:
Every 20 minutes, look about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This will give your eyes a much-needed break and also prevent eye fatigue and eyestrain. Lubricating eye drops, also known as artificial tears, can also provide temporary relief by helping to restore moisture levels. Opt for those that are labeled “preservative-free,” especially if you find yourself using them frequently.
Stay in a Healthy Weight Range
You may not realize your size has anything to do with your eyesight, but research shows that being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of cataracts, as well as type 2 diabetes, which can lead to diabetic retinopathy. In both cases, uncontrolled blood glucose that’s associated with being overweight appears to be the culprit.
Kick Your Nicotine Habit
Smoking cigarettes doesn’t just harm your lungs—it can also have a negative impact on your vision, increasing your risk for cataracts, AMD, dry eyes and diabetic retinopathy. Smokers have double the risk of cataracts and are up to four times more likely than non-smokers to have macular degeneration. And dry eye disease is more than twice as likely to impact smokers than non-smokers.
The inspiring side of it all: While the process may be slow, your eyes start healing from the damage done by cigarette smoking the moment you quit. Visit our article, Considering Nicotine Replacement Therapy, to learn about one way to get started.
Shield Your Eyes From the Weather
Damaging UV rays can lead to cataracts and AMD, but wearing sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat when you’re in the sun for a long period of time can help shield your eyes from these blinding rays.
Opt for large-framed wraparound sunglasses that block 99 or 100 percent of all UV light (this is often referred to as “UV absorption up to 400nm” on the manufacturer’s label). Donning a pair of shades on blustery days can also help protect your eyes from the drying effects of wind.
If you don’t get enough vitamins from food, supplementation is another way to protect against AMD. Studies have found that a high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and zinc can lower your risk by 25 percent.
Taking a daily multivitamin has also been shown to minimize the chance of cataracts. Talk to your healthcare provider about the type and dose of supplements that are right for you.