It’s Healthy Vision Month: Maintain Yours!

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As we advance in years, we inevitably realize changes in our physical being. Perhaps we have some aches and pains when we first awaken in the morning, or we may find that bending down to pick up something off the floor requires a bit more dexterity than we might have. Our vision is no exception, particularly as we reach our 60s and beyond.

For most people, turning the corner into their 40s ushers in the need to get prescription glasses, or, at the very least, a reliable pair of “cheaters,” the inexpensive, non-prescription magnifying glasses that make print easier to read. These chagnes are perfectly normal and are not necessarily indicative of disease.

Even the development of cataracts, also considered an age-related disease, is extremely common among seniors and is readily corrected with cataract surgery. Roughly half of all 65-year-old Americans have a degree of cataract formation in their eyes. The percentage is higher for those in their 70s. It’s estimated that by 2020, more than 30 million Americans will have cataracts. Fortunately, modern cataract surgery is extremely safe and effective. However, it is important to have them removed before they advance too far.

Symptoms of cataracts tend to develop slowly over time and may include blurry, cloudy or dim vision; double vision in one eye; difficulty seeing at night or in dim light; seeing halos around lights; faded or yellow colors; sensitivity to light and glare; and trouble seeing objects against backgrounds of the same color. Risk factors include appreciable exposure to sunlight, smoking, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, diabetes, prior eye injury or surgery and family history of cataracts.

Age-related macular degeneration, also referred to as AMD, is the leading cause of blindness among American seniors. Statistics from the National Eye Institute suggest that more than two million Americans currently have age-related macular degeneration. With AMD, the macula, or central part of the retina, becomes damaged. As such, central vision is affected. You may experience difficulty reading fine print, but peripheral vision is maintained. Dry AMD affects nine of ten people with AMD. Vision loss is subtle in this form as the cells in the retina begin to break down. You may see only parts of letters, or straight lines may appear wavy. Additional symptoms of dry AMD may include hazy vision, difficulty transitioning from bright to low lighting, trouble reading or recognizing people’s faces, and colors appearing less vivid than normal.

Wet AMD is caused by the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the macula. It may appear suddenly and causes severe loss of central vision. This may result in a large dark spot in the center of your vison. Other symptoms include distorted vision, colors appearing less vivid or objects appearing a different size for each eye. Wet AMD always begins as dry AMD. Risk factors for AMD include genetics, exposure to UV light and lack of nutrients to the retina. Although there is no cure for AMD, there are options to slow the progression.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases resulting in vision loss caused by high pressure in the eye or poor circulation to the optic nerve. The most common forms of glaucoma develop gradually and may show no obvious signs in the early stages. In addition to age, other risk factors include a family history of the disease, being of African or Hispanic ancestry, high levels of farsightedness or nearsightedness, former eye injury, high eye pressure or low blood pressure, and diabetes. Treatments for glaucoma may include eye drops, laser treatment and surgery.

In the normal aging process, the gel-like vitreous inside the eyes starts to liquefy and pull away from the retina, resulting in spots and floaters and sometimes flashes of light. This usually harmless condition is referred to as vitreous detachment. However, sometimes the floaters and flashes can signal the beginning of a detached retina, a serious problem than can lead to blindness if it’s not treated immediately.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of uncontrolled diabetes High blood sugar levels cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which begin to leak fluid or bleed. While laser treatment can help slow the progression of the disease, the best way to protect your vision is to monitor and maintain normal blood sugar levels. Depending on the blockage, you may experience subtle, painless and moderate vision loss or sudden, severe vision loss accompanied by pain, which requires immediate medical attention and care.

Vision changes related to aging happen to many individuals as they grow older, but eye problems are not something to be dismissed. As you age, eye problems may happen gradually. Others may happen suddenly, causing blindness. For both reasons and to maintain overall good health, regular exams with an ophthalmologist are vitally important. ■

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