As we age, we experience changes to our body and health in many different ways. Some things happen suddenly and are noticeable; others creep up on us slowly. That’s why we are encouraged to be proactive about our health and regularly visit a doctor for checkups. March is National Save Your Vision Month to promote eye health so it’s a good time to have a comprehensive eye exam from a doctor of optometry – especially if you are over the age of 65.
Aging is associated with changes in our vision and in the structure of our eye, but our chances of developing an eye disorder also increases with age. The differences between normal aging and diseases of the eye can be difficult to distinguish and that why seeing an eye doctor is important as we grow older. The most important test is visual acuity which is eyesight or how well we see, but there are many other things optometrists look for during an evaluation.
- Aging is a risk factor for developing glaucoma. Glaucoma is caused by elevated pressure within the eye that can damage the optic nerve. There are two types. Open angle glaucoma is the most common type and does not produce symptoms or warning signs in the early stages. Angle closure glaucoma produces symptoms that include blurred vision, nausea and pain. Both are treatable if diagnosed early.
- Cataracts are the most common cause of visual loss in the elderly and affect one out of seven Americans. It is also the most treatable. Symptoms include blurred vision, frequent change in eyeglass prescriptions, sensitivity to light and yellowing of colors. They do not cause pain or irritation, but can be discovered during a thorough examination.
- Macular degeneration is the most common cause of blindness in people over the age of 50. An eye doctor can often diagnose the condition before symptoms occur by dilating the eyes. The dry type is caused by the thinning of the retina and the wet type by growth of abnormal blood vessels. Both can cause vision loss the point of being legally blind. There are options to treat macular degeneration so being in contact regularly with a physician is important.
- Retinal detachment can occur at any age, but more often occurs in middle-aged and older adults. A hold or tear in the retina can develop for a variety of reasons and if untreated, fluid can leak into the hole and cause the retina to detach from its underlying support. It can cause severe loss of vision. There is treatment available that can help save your vision if treated promptly.
- Blue light affects the overall health of those who use digital devices. According to 2016 AOA Eye-Q survey data, the average American spends seven hours per day using digital devices. Over exposure to blue light due to smartphones, tablets and other technology for extended periods of time can cause vision damage, sleep problems and affect your overall health. Prolonged exposure to blue light may cause retinal damage and contribute to age-related macular degeneration.
There are many changes that occur in our eyes as we age. Many are normal, but sometimes they can be difficult to distinguish from serious diseases. That’s why it’s important to have routine examinations by an eye doctor so treatment can begin to help avoid vision loss.