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Keeping good vision in sight

By age 65, one in three Americans has some form of vision-impairing eye disease. Some eye conditions come with aging. Others may run in your family or be the result of a health condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Keep your eyes healthy by getting them tested regularly and seeking treatment for symptoms as they arise. Blurred vision or flashes of light could be the first signs of vision loss. And while age-related problems like excessive tearing, dry eyes, nearsightedness and floaters (tiny specks that float across your field of vision) are often harmless, they can sometimes indicate a more serious condition.

Older adults, in particular, need to stay focused on preventing the following four serious conditions:

  • Glaucoma occurs when the normal flow of watery fluid between the cornea and the lens is blocked, causing pressure inside the eye. It usually occurs in both eyes, one after the other. Three million people have glaucoma, although half of them don’t know it because warning symptoms usually don’t exist. Doctors can prescribe medication or eye drops, use laser surgery or implant a drainage device to ease damaging pressure.
  • Cataracts are cloudy areas on the lens caused by protein clumps that block light from passing through to the retina. Small cataracts that don’t grow may not affect vision, but they sometimes require outpatient surgery to be removed and replaced with an artificial lens. Not smoking and wearing sunglasses with total UV protection may help prevent cataracts.
  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when light-sensing cells in the macula, the central part of the retina, break down, often causing an irreversible loss of central vision. About 10 percent of people with the disease have its more severe “wet” form in which blood and fluid leak under the macula. The rest have the “dry” form, which doesn’t involve bleeding. Half of all sufferers develop macular degeneration in both eyes. Studies show that eating lots of dark green, leafy vegetables; controlling high blood pressure; and taking vitamins E and C, beta-carotene and zinc supplements may help fight the condition. Wearing protective sunglasses and not smoking also help. People with dry AMD may benefit from vision rehabilitation. People with wet AMD may need laser surgery or medication to slow vision loss.
  • Diabetic retinopathy develops when chronic high blood-sugar levels damage vessels that feed the retina. People with diabetes who don’t control their disease may experience blurred vision and, in advanced cases, blindness resulting from retinopathy. Eating right, exercising, seeing your doctor routinely and taking your diabetes medication will help keep eyes from becoming damaged. Laser surgery treatment can stop or slow diabetic retinopathy that’s been detected early.

When to seek help

Since not all eye diseases have early warning signs, routine eye exams to detect changes are important. Call your doctor if you notice any of these signs:

  • impaired peripheral vision
  • reduced night vision and problems with glare
  • impaired depth perception
  • color distortion
  • blurred or distorted vision
  • straight lines that appear wavy
  • dark, impaired central vision (an empty area in the center of vision)
  • eye pain