Having trouble reading a menu or need more light reading a magazine or newspaper? If you answered yes and are over 40, join the club! Millions of people in your age group find their vision is not as sharp as it used to be, have trouble reading labels on food packages in the grocery store, and find they are squinting more and more trying to read traffic signs!
It’s a fact of life. More and more middle aged Americans experience vision impairment of some form or another from simple inability to read fine print to cataracts, which affects more than 65 million Americans. Some have even more serious eye conditions like macular degeneration, and glaucoma, the leading cause of vision impairment in the United States today.
You might wonder whether there is anything you can do to protect your eyes from the effects of aging? Well, I’m glad you asked, allow me to share some information about aging and your eyes along with some specific things you can do to improve your vision and prevent some of the conditions mentioned earlier. First, let’s take a look at a few common conditions that can occur with aging.
Common Aging Eye Conditions
Around age 40, the human eye begins to undergo certain changes associated with age which include the following:
Trouble reading fine print: Holding print farther away from you to read it is called presbyopia that most commonly occurs in people over age 40. Headaches, or a feeling of “tired eyes” may also accompany it. This condition is easily corrected with simple reading glasses that you can buy at the store.
Spots that float: These are tiny dark specks, or floaters, that seem to bounce around your field of vision, most commonly seen on a sunny day. These usually are harmless but if they become bigger or more in number, and/or occur with flashes of light, they can warn of a condition called retinal detachment.
Dry eyes: Dry eye conditions most commonly start to occur over age 45 in most people and can be a result of hormone changes, prolonged computer use, certain allergic conditions or other health conditions. The tear ducts decrease the amount of fluid they produce and dry, scratchy eyes can result. These are usually treated with lubricating drops, (see Prevent Aging Eyes Naturally).
Tearing: One or both eyes may suddenly develop tearing due to the sensitivity to wind or light. It may indicate a blocked tear duct or an eye infection, or allergies (see Prevent Aging Eyes Naturally). Wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from wind or light can help, but if excessive tearing occurs, see an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) to determine the cause of the tearing.
As you start approaching age 60-65, other eye conditions may start to occur as well including:
Cataracts: This is a condition of the eye where a part of the lens becomes cloudy and doesn’t let enough light in, causing loss of eyesight. Often cataracts stay small and do not affect the eyesight very much. However, they can become larger and thicker and require surgical removal where your natural clouded lens is replaced by an artificial lens. Being out on sunny days without eye protection greatly enhances the risk of developing cataracts. Wear sunglasses or shade your eyes with a hat visor.
Glaucoma: This condition causes a buildup of fluid in the eye, the cause of which is mostly unknown. Treated early, glaucoma can be controlled so that blindness doesn’t result. Glaucoma usually has no symptoms and is found only on an eye exam through a special test that feels like a puff of air blown into your eye.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): The macula of the eye contains numerous light-sensitive cells that help you see. Over time, the macula can degenerate and cause sharp vision to decline, making it harder to see clearly, read or drive. Sometimes, laser treatments are helpful.
Prevent Aging Eyes Naturally
There are several things you can do to greatly slow down, or even reverse, some aging eye conditions. They include:
Eat A Vision-Friendly Diet: Lots of leafy green and yellow vegetables, decrease/avoid saturated fats like those found in fried foods, red meat, and hydrogenated oils (transfats). Decrease amount of sugar intake as over 11 teaspoons a day can dehydrate the eyes.
Nutritional Supplements: Many aging vision conditions start with nutritional deficiencies especially of the antioxidant type. Vitamins and minerals such as beta carotene (Vitamin A), Vitamin C, Vitamin E, resveratrol, selenium and zinc, can all help prevent damaged cells from oxidative stress (such as occurs in age-related macular degeneration) and clogged arteries (which can decrease blood flow to eyes). Other agents like lutein (from yellow carotenoid vegetables like squash, sweet potatoes, egg yolks) help absorb blue light from the sun; Zeaxanthin (also from yellow carotenoids) protects against AMD and cataracts; Bilberry contains flavonoids (found in blue, purple, red fruits and flowers) and is very beneficial in improving night vision.
Quit Smoking: Smoking greatly speeds up eye aging/damage through chemical exposure in its smoke. It also decreases Vitamin C in your body that is a crucial antioxidant for your eyes.
Protect Your Eyes: Sunglasses and hats with visors to shade your eyes on very sunny days can help prevent developing cataracts and damage from too much blue light absorption from the sun.
Control Your Health: Other health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, Sjogren syndrome have a direct effect on your eyes. If left uncontrolled, an eye condition called diabetic retinopathy can occur which can decrease vision. Uncontrolled high blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage blood vessels in your eyes that decrease blood flow to them and thereby decrease nutrients getting to the eye. Sjogren syndrome is a chronic dryness of all the mucous membranes of the body including the eyes. Some medications for certain illnesses may have vision-related side effects. Ask your doctor about any Rx you take.
Eye Exams: Seeing an eye doctor for yearly eye exams can detect any eye conditions early and treat them before they damage your vision.
Lubricate: Dry eyes cannot only be uncomfortable, they can open the door for other eye conditions. Eye tissues normally rest in a high fluid environment that protects them from harm. When that fluid level decreases, the tissues are more vulnerable to damage. The most important form of lubrication for your eyes comes from adequate water intake in your body in general. If you’re dry, your eyes are. As I always advise my patients, drink half your body weight in water per day. Other forms of lubrication include drops, which can consist of an artificial tear solution you can buy over the counter, or herbal drops that help clear the itching and redness from seasonal allergies. These are usually found in health food stores.
Decrease Computer Use/Rest: If you work at a computer 8 hours a day, remember to blink! Studies show that blinking slows down while people are in front of a computer screen. Look away at something black in the distance every hour while on the computer for a few moments to rest your eyes. Consider getting prescription computer glasses designed specifically for vision problems that occur with computer use, i.e., “computer vision syndrome”.
Exercise Your Eyes: Overall aerobic exercise is not just for the rest of you! It can benefit your eyes as well as it improves blood flow to your head and eyes. In addition, specific eye exercises really help to decrease eyestrain and re-energize tired eyes. Here are a few good ones that can be done a few times a day if you like:
- Figure 8’s – roll your eyes in the pattern of the number 8 to the count of 10.
- Palming – rub the palms of your hands together briskly until they get warm. Then place the palms of your hands across your eyes and rest them for a few minutes in the darkness of your hands.
I often tell my patients that getting older is inevitable, but aging eye/vision conditions don’t have to be. By being proactive and maintaining a healthy lifestyle full of beneficial eye/body nutrition, hydration, exercise, and protecting your eyes from damage by smoke, computer screens, or sun, you do have some control over slowing down/reversing, or preventing, certain age-related eye conditions from occurring. Protecting your eyes now can help you enjoy healthy vision throughout your lifetime!