Keep close eye on your peepers
Aging can weaken your eyes, but it can't cause blindness or severe vision loss. So why should older people get regular eye exams if their sight is satisfactory?
Because eye disorders like glaucoma and cataracts, common with aging, may show virtually no symptoms. So be sure to see your eye doctor every two years to detect eye diseases at early stages when treatment is still effective. Otherwise, this could happen to you:
Glaucoma creeps up
In the beginning, you don't notice any symptoms. In time, though, your peripheral vision gradually worsens. Your field of vision eventually narrows so much, you might feel you're looking through a tunnel. Because the signs appear so gradually, you may not realize you have developed glaucoma until irreversible vision changes occur.
"Glaucoma" refers to one of several eye diseases affecting millions of Americans. The diseases damage the optic nerve and shrink the boundaries of what we can see. Left untreated, glaucoma can even lead to blindness.
The eye is like a fluid-filled ball. Fluid normally circulates from the back to the front of the eyeball, then out through drainage canals. The optic nerve runs from the back of your eye to your brain, transmitting visual signals to the brain so you can see.
With glaucoma, the eye's drainage canals stop working properly. This causes fluid pressure to build. If pressure stays too high too long, the optic nerve is damaged.
The two main types of glaucoma are "open-angle" and "angle closure" glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma accounts for the majority of cases. In this form, the fluid drains too slowly. The early stages are typically asymptomatic. But as the disease progresses, damage occurs first to the outer edges of the optic nerve, responsible for peripheral vision. Without treatment, the field of vision keeps narrowing, eventually resulting in blindness.
In angle closure glaucoma, the fluid does not drain at all, causing a sudden increase in pressure. Symptoms include extreme eye pain, nausea, blurred vision and eye redness. This is a medical emergency. Without treatment, the sufferer can go blind in one or two days.
Are you at risk?
Glaucoma affects people of all ages, but some are at higher risk than others: everyone older than 60, especially Mexican-Americans; African-Americans older than 40; those with a family history of the disease, and diabetics.
Regular eye exams will not keep you from getting glaucoma. There is no cure for the disease. But early detection and treatment, before major vision loss has occurred, is the best way to control the disease. Once diagnosed, treatment is ongoing and lifelong.
Medications, including pills and eye drops, can reduce eye pressure and help preserve sight. Laser surgery can also control eye pressure in some cases. Microsurgery, in which a new opening is created for fluid drainage, also may be recommended. Talk to your own doctor about the best course of treatment.
Test your 'eye' Q
True or false?
- You increase the risk of cataracts by reading in weak light.
- Exercise and other healthy strategies to prevent or control diabetes may also reduce your risk of glaucoma and other eye diseases.
- Spinach, other green vegetables may prevent eye diseases.
Check your answers
- False. Reading in weak light may cause eye strain, but it won't lead to any long-term problems. But another type of light will: Ultraviolet rays from the sun are believed to increase your risk of cataracts. So shield your eyes against sunlight. Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of ultraviolet A and B rays.
- True. Unchecked diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy, the chief cause of blindness in American adults. Diabetes also raises your risk for glaucoma and cataracts. Research shows regular exercise and low-fat diets can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
- True. Studies show spinach, kale and other greens are linked to lower cataract risk and that omega-3 fatty acids found in ἀsh might help prevent glaucoma. More research is needed before direct links between diet and eye diseases can be established.