Have You Seen My Glasses?

Part 1 of the Healthy Eyes series

Vision problems are typically considered an inevitable part of aging. Eye health and vision may be capable of significant improvement by implementing smart nutrition and taking other protective actions. This is encouraging news and should give realistic hope to most people confronted with age-related vision and eye-health challenges.

Beyond Near-Sightedness and Far-Sightedness are Macular Degeneration, Diabetic Retinopathy, Glaucoma and Cataracts–the four most common age-related eye diseases that can interfere with quality of life as you age. With preventative care you may avoid dealing with them.

Macular Degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) steadily reduces and blocks central vision and is the leading cause of vision loss among the older population. It causes deterioration of the macula, the small central area of the retina that controls visual acuity. This determines our ability to read, drive, use a computer, recognize faces, watch TV and any other task that requires us to see details. Peripheral vision isn’t typically affected.

AMD is slightly more common among the older white population and overall affects more than 14% of people over the age of 80. According to the CDC nearly 7% of Americans over 40 have some degree of this problem. Symptoms usually come on gradually. There are two kinds: dry AMD, which affects 85-90% of sufferers, and wet AMD, which is the more severe form.

Symptoms may include:

  • Visual distortions, such as straight lines appearing bent
  • Reduced central vision in one or both eyes
  • The need for brighter light when reading or doing close work
  • Increased difficulty adapting to low light levels, such as when entering a dimly lit space
  • Increased blurriness of printed words
  • Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
  • Difficulty recognizing faces

If you notice symptoms immediately make an appointment with an ophthalmologist. When caught in the early stages some of the damage may be reversible and progression may be prevented. An annual eye-exam is highly recommended as you age.

Macular Degeneration (AMD) risk factors:

  • Smoking (or regular exposure to second-hand smoke) is the number one cause for AMD. How’s this for motivation to stop?
  • Obesity tends to lead to progression from the “dry” form to the more severe “wet” form of the disease
  • Cardiovascular disease – if you have problems that affect your heart and vascular system.
  • Genetic propensity—despite the hereditary link preventative measures can help.

The following measures may help reduce your risk of developing the dry form of AMD:

Have routine eye exams.

Manage your other medical conditions.

Don’t smoke.

Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight.

 Choose a diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins from fruits and vegetables.

In order to maintain good vision specific nutrients are needed at much higher levels than the RDAs in order to reduce risks of AMD. This is according to National Eye Institute studies funded by the federal government. The nutrients studied that made a clear difference are vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, zinc and copper. They also found that omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA from fish, along with carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin are eye-protective against AMD. When it comes to eye health after age 50 nutritional supplementation is essential. What’s amazing is that nutritional therapy is now considered the “standard for care” for people with increased risks for AMD. This is a breakthrough in recognition of supplemental nutrition in disease prevention!

Diabetic Retinopathy

This preventable disease is caused by chronically high blood sugar levels causing damage to capillaries in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, causing them to possibly swell or leak. It may also close the blood vessels impeding blood flow. NPDR (non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy) is the early stage and is common among diabetics, causing blurry vision.

PDR (proliferative diabetic retinopathy) is the more advanced stage when abnormal new blood vessels form and proliferate on the retina. If they bleed or leak you may see dark floaters or even a blockage of all vision. These new blood vessels can also form scar tissue which potentially leads to problems with the macula or even a detached retina. This is a very serious problem. If you are diabetic it is imperative for you to have an annual eye exam with dilation, even if your vision seems fine right now.

It is estimated that over 23 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes and another seven million are undiagnosed.

If you notice any of these symptoms immediately make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.

  • Spots or dark strings floating in your vision (floaters)
  • Blurred vision
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Impaired color vision
  • Dark or empty areas in your vision
  • Vision loss

Risks can increase as a result of:

  • Duration– The longer you have diabetes, the greater its risk of developing.
  • Poor control of your blood sugar level
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Pregnancy
  • Tobacco use
  • Being African-American, Hispanic or Native American

The following measures may help reduce your risk of developing diabetic retinopathy:

Manage your diabetes and monitor your blood sugar level.

Ask your doctor to do a glycosylated hemoglobin (A1C) test. For most people, the A1C target is to be under 7%.

Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control.

Exercise regularly, lose excess weight and make smart food choices.  Research shows that nutritional supplementation may be helpful in preventing and slowing progression of symptoms.

Quit smoking or using other types of tobacco. If increased risk of blindness doesn’t get your attention what will?

Contact your eye doctor right away if you experience any vision changes such as becoming blurry, spotty or hazy.

In part 2 we’ll focus on Glaucoma and Cataracts, overall eye health and nutrition and preventive measures to maintain healthy eyes and clear vision for a lifetime.