You can't prevent your eyes from aging, but you can slow age-related damage by taking care of your eye health
By Neil B. Zusman, M.D., FACS Zusman Eye Care Center
September is Healthy Aging Month and it is important for the public to know about maintaining healthy vision. Vision problems such as glaucoma, cataract, age- related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy are common among older adults. You can't prevent your eyes from aging, but you can slow age-related damage by taking care of your eye health.
The following tips can help you take care of your eyes and preserve clear vision:
Get Regular Eye Exams
Starting at age 40, get periodic eye exams where your eye doctor will look for signs of glaucoma and retinal diseases, even if you're a healthy adult with no vision problems. Many common eye diseases often have no warning signs. A dilated eye exam is the only way to detect such diseases in their early stage. People who have certain medical conditions that increase the risk of eye disorders, such as diabetes or hypertension, or those who have vision problems should see an eye care professional earlier than 40. Based on your risk factors and the initial findings of your exam, your eye doctor will recommend the appropriate screening intervals that will help maintain healthy vision.
Know Your Family's Eye Health History
Talk to your family members about their eye health history. It's important to know if anyone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition since many are hereditary. This will help determine if you are at higher risk for developing an eye disease or condition.
Wear Sunglasses with UV Protection
The sun's ultraviolet rays can damage aging eyes. UV rays can cause skin cancer on the lids and surface of the eye, cataracts and possibly accelerate macular degeneration. The best way to protect eyes from the sun is with sunglasses that block out virtually 100% of both UV-A and UV-B radiation.
Wear a Hat
When you are outdoors for any length of time, especially in Florida, a wide-brimmed hat is protective. This will give added protection to your face and eyes in addition to sunglasses.
Eat Right to Protect Your Sight
Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, particularly dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, or collard greens is important for keeping your eyes healthy. Such foods contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Research also suggests there are eye health benefits from eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna and halibut.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing diabetes and other systemic conditions, which can lead to vision loss, such as diabetic eye disease or glaucoma. If you are having trouble maintaining a healthy weight, talk to your doctor.
Consider a Multivitamin
Vitamins A (beta-carotene), C, E, and the mineral zinc have been shown to promote eye health. In fact, in patients with moderate to severe age-related macular degeneration, a certain vitamin combination has been found to help prevent progression of the disease. This finding was based on the Age Related Eye Disease Study 1 and 2 (AREDS 1 and 2) which took many years to complete. The latest formula recommended is known as Preservision containing the AREDS 2 formula.
Smoking is linked to an increased risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, cataract and optic nerve damage, all of which can lead to blindness.
Wear Protective Eyewear
Wear protective eyewear when playing sports or doing activities around the home. Protective eyewear includes safety glasses and goggles, safety shields, and eye guards specially designed to provide the correct protection for a certain activity. Most protective eyewear lenses are made of a safety plastic, such as polycarbonate, which is a much stronger material and does not shatter.
Give Your Eyes a Rest
If you spend a lot of time at the computer or focusing at any one distance, you sometimes forget to blink, resulting in dryness and eye fatigue. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.
Clean Your Hands and Your Contact Lenses Properly
To avoid the risk of infection, always wash your hands thoroughly before putting in or taking out your contact lenses. Make sure to disinfect contact lenses as instructed and replace them as appropriate.
You can't stop time, but you can take care of your eyes so that they remain healthy as you age. Having clear vision is possible at any age!
The National Eye Institute (NEI), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the federal government's principal agency for vision research, offers additional eye health information and tips for people to protect their vision as they age. Visit nei.nih.gov/agingeye to learn more.