Has your vision begun to wane? Do you find that you have to squint more often than you used to when driving? Has reading the daily paper become too challenging without the aid of glasses? Do your favorite television programs seem fuzzy, even from a short distance?
Once you reach 65, there’s a good chance that you will develop vision problems you may not have had before. 6.5 million of Americans over 65 are struggling with a significant vision impairment. And, 1 in 28 of those over 40 years old will experience blindness or low vision.
What’s more shocking? Experts expect these numbers to double by the year 2030. Why does age have such a negative impact on our vision? And, what, if anything, can you do to stop the damage? Find out why aging leads to vision loss, and how to prevent it from happening to you!
Modern-Day Medicine Produces Mixed Results
With extraordinary modern-day advances in the fields of medicine, science, and technology, it’s hard to believe that the incidence of vision loss continues to be so widespread among the aging population. It would make more sense if we were to see a reduction, rather than an increase, in the percentage of people who are being afflicted with impaired vision. After all, haven’t we made monumental strides over the past century in medicine that reduced or eliminated many of the health problems once considered common?
Newfound Cures Are a Source of Hope and Concern
At the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy was a mere forty years old. However, vaccines, antibiotics, and advances in medical technology have caused our life expectancy to almost double what it was back then. The historically tragic occurrence of diseases such as tetanus, rabies, and polio are no longer a concern thanks to modern-day medical advancements. Even smallpox, the horrific killer that resulted in 300-500 million deaths during the 20th century, is now considered to be completely eradicated from society. While modern medical miracles such as those named above have been met with hope and enthusiasm by the human race, questions in other areas remain unanswered.
Did Vision Get Left Behind?
When it comes to eye disease and vision loss, the occurrence rate is expected to rise over the next quarter century. This leads to questions regarding this higher prevalence of optical impairments. Is it possible that the inevitable aging process could be to blame? While cures offer hope in many areas, the climbing rate of vision loss stirs concern, especially for a large number of Americans who are suffering from debilitating eye disease.
Americans Greatest Fears Include Blindness
Recently, a study conducted by the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University revealed that blindness joins the ranks of cancer as one of the most feared potential outcomes by Americans. The top ranking fear outweighs other serious health risks such as loss of limb and even HIV AIDS, according to researchers. As it turns out, Americans may be more justified in their worries about vision loss than one might think. An article in American Family Physician reports that vision loss is listed as the third most common cause of chronic impairments in adults over the age of 70 years old.
Why do Americans feel so threatened by vision loss that it surpasses many of the deadliest known diseases? As the New York Times recently reported, blindness includes a host of additional woes for the already vulnerable aging population. Victims of severe vision loss suffer from a loss of autonomy, a greater risk of depression, anxiety, and are more likely to suffer from serious falls and other accidents.
Is There More Than Meets the Eye When it Comes to Vision Loss?
At least one major contributor may come as a surprise. Experts say that related health conditions leading to vision loss, such as diabetes, appear to play a major role in the rising epidemic, according to The Chicago Tribune. In addition, ophthalmologists are faced with multiple challenges that render them at a disadvantage in the fight against vision loss and eye disease. Many Americans are without vision health care coverage. This creates an obstacle for eye doctors, who typically encourage patients to participate in regular exams with an eye specialist and advocate a proactive approach.
The Chicago Tribune report indicates that only half of the 61 million Americans diagnosed with significant vision loss received an eye exam in the twelve months prior to the study.
How Does Aging Contribute to the Loss of Vision?
While some of the contributors to eye disease and vision loss may be avoidable with proper eye exams, maintenance, and health care, aging is not. And, it’s widely agreed that aging does indeed play a part in impaired vision. Like the rest of our bodies, as we age our eyes are exposed to more wear and tear. It’s this constant, unavoidable wear and tear on the major parts of our eyes that can result in age-related vision problems.
Corneal Surface Damage
The corneal surface is coated with a thin tear layer, that can become worn down over time. Conditions such as blepharitis, which causes inflammation of the eyelid, can erode the tear layer. This creates a rough corneal layer that’s more susceptible to damage.
In addition, two of the most common problems for aging eyes is presbyopia and cataracts. These lens related ailments will affect almost everyone eventually. Presbyopia is the result of lens hardening, which can limit sight clarity, making it difficult to view object whether up-close or in the distance. The word presbyopia is derived from the Greek words presbus, meaning old man, and opia, meaning eye. Fortunately, presbyopia comes with a simple solution. The problem can be easily corrected with bifocals or reading glasses.
Cataracts are caused by an increase in the eye lens’ opacity, which is a typical problem that occurs with age. As the eye lens clouds up, it creates a distorted medium for viewing. If you should develop a cataract, there is a very common surgical procedure that can remove it. Most of these patients report the procedure to be extremely successful in remedying their cataract problem.
Deterioration in the Retina and Optic Nerve
The retina and optic nerve work together to perform a joint duty of converting light into a neural signal. In a healthy individual, the risk of deterioration is low. However, if deterioration occurs, the results can be very serious. And, in extreme cases, this can even result in total blindness. The risk is bolstered by age-related diseases including glaucoma and macular degeneration. If these diseases are caught early, it’s possible to prevent or minimize the loss of vision.
This is one reason that it is so important for people to receive regular eye exams, especially as they enter the later years of life.
The Future of Age-Related Eye Conditions
Does the impact of the aging process mean that we are doomed to inescapable vision loss? Not hardly.
The good news is that most age-related vision disorders can be effectively treated with proper care and regular eye exams. When discovered in the early stages, even the most potentially problematic of the above issues can usually be contained.
Advanced Technology Offers Promising Future Treatment Options
Rapidly advancing technology offers a promising future that may include even more effective treatment options as well. Current treatment options include the application of medicated drops which can often hold glaucoma at bay. But, the hassle of applying eye drops every day, sometimes for years, can lend to the disease’s progression, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Now, there are trials which are testing the use of a polymer ring that would be able to offer consistent irrigation without the use of drops.
Additionally, there is the possibility of stem cell regeneration to repair eyes that have been damaged by disease. Scientists from UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute and Broad Stem Cell Research Center performed a stem cell regeneration study on legally blind patients and reported improved vision in over half of the subjects. Another advanced treatment option that has been approved by the FDA in recent years is the Argus II bionic retina. It is now being used by more than 100 people with retinitis pigmentosa and other conditions. And, it was recently implanted in the first person with macular degeneration.
How to Protect Your Eyes From Future or Further Damage
In addition to professional eye exams and medical treatment, there are ways that you can guard against potential damage to your eyes.
Even if you have already begun to experience reduced vision, there are techniques and strategies that may help keep damage to a minimum.
- Taking regular fish oil supplements which help combat dry eyes
- Eating foods that are high in Vitamin C can reduce your risk of glaucoma
- Avoid head-down positions in Yoga which can increase internal head/eye pressure
- Alternating sides when sleeping decreases the risk of pressure accumulation on one side of your head
- Regular exercise may reduce your chances of developing eye disease
- Eating dark green vegetables might also cut your risk of eye disease
- Spend time in natural light which may reduce potential nearsightedness
- Protect eyes with sunglasses to avoid developing dryness
- Keep eyes irrigated with drops or gel that’s made specifically for dry eye relief
- Schedule a regular eye exam with a trained ophthalmologist at least once a year, and more often if you have vision problems
While you may not be able to avoid aging, it is possible to reduce your risk of age-related damage and minimize vision loss.
If you want to maintain healthy vision, make sure that you are doing your part. Taking an active role in your eye health can save you from years of suffering.
Don’t Wait Until it’s Too Late!
Scheduling regular eye exams with an eyesore specialist are one of the most important things that you can do to maintain healthy vision. Waiting until your eye problems become debilitating can lead to a greater risk for loss of vision. And in some cases, procrastination may even result in blindness. Take control of your health by doing your part to keep your eyes in the best condition possible.
Our ophthalmologists and optometrists at Magruder Eye Institute in Orlando, Apopka and Kissimmee are capable of a wide range of treatment options. We perform the most advanced procedures. And, we ensure that our patients receive thorough examinations and screenings. We offer our patients the highest standard of eye care.
We accept most vision insurance plans. Plus, we offer convenient online bill payments. We also have financing options available so you can get the care you deserve when you need it. Magruder Eye Institute is committed to keeping your vision intact and want to help you make informed decisions about the care and maintenance of your eyesight.
Contact us today to make an appointment for your next eye exam!