Monday, May 28, 2012


Taking care of your eyes can improve overall health

As we get older, changes in our vision are almost inevitable. Some of this is routine, but some symptoms could signal a bigger problems.

When people reach their 40s, they may note vision up close is impaired. Nearly all people 45 years and older need reading glasses. This is due to hardening of the lens, called presbyopia, and can be corrected with reading glasses that help magnify the small print. 

Everyone over 50 should see an eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. Many eye diseases have no warning signs. Regular eye exams can detect changes in the eyes early and preventative actions can be taken to prevent vision loss. An eye professional will tell you how often you need to have your eyes examined.

Here are some common conditions and their treatments, according to the National Eye Institute and the National Institute of Health:

Age-related macular degeneration: This is the most common cause of vision loss in adults. It is characterized by central vision (seeing right in front of you) loss while peripheral vision (seeing to your left and right) is maintained. The vision loss makes it difficult to recognize faces, drive a car, read, print, or do close work, such as sewing or fixing things around the house. Aside from aging, risk factors also include: tobacco use, sun exposure, and family history. Laser treatment is an option, in consultation with a vision specialist.

Cataracts: A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Vision with cataract can appear cloudy or blurry, colors may seem faded and you may notice a lot of glare. Most cataracts are age related. Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataracts. If you smoke, stop. Researchers also believe good nutrition can help reduce the risk of age-related cataract. They recommend eating green leafy vegetables, fruit, and other foods with antioxidants. Preventative actions when cataracts are detected early include the use of eyeglasses, brighter lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. Cataracts need to be surgically removed when vision loss interferes with your everyday activities, such as driving, reading, or watching TV.

Diabetic eye disease: Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes and is a leading cause of blindness. The most common form is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina. There are no early warning signs for this and that is why, besides keeping your blood sugar in control, it is very important to get a dilated eye exam every year if you have diabetes. Laser surgery and appropriate follow up care can reduce the risk of blindness by 90 percent. However, laser surgery often cannot restore vision that has already been lost, which is why finding diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss.

Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. It is usually associated with high pressure in the eye and affects side or peripheral vision. Open-angle glaucoma is a painless increase in eye pressure. This can result in loss of peripheral vision if untreated. This is avoidable with regular eye examinations and treatments prescribed by the eye doctor. Closed-angle glaucoma is a sudden increase in eye pressure that occurs in one eye. It is very painful with vision changes including halos around lights. This requires emergent care by an ophthalmologist for rapid pressure reduction with medication and possible surgery.

Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. Dry eye can make it more difficult to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period of time. Symptoms of dry eye include an inability to produce tears, burning, itching, gritty/sandpaper feel in the eye, pain and eye redness, uncomfortable contact lenses, and tiredness of the eye. If your eyes are dry, the first option is to use over-the-counter artificial tears, gels, ointments, or wetting drops. Humidify dry environments in the home and allow your eyes to rest from long periods of reading or using the computer.  It is important to see an eye care professional to determine the cause of the eye dryness.

Low vision means that even with regular glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery, people find everyday tasks difficult to do. Reading the mail, shopping, cooking, seeing the TV, and writing can seem challenging. With help from vision specialists, there are ways to change the environment to help improve your vision.

Vision specialists can help you make adjustments in the home by rearranging daily use items. Many individuals with low vision benefit from talking clocks and computers. Magnifiers can be handheld and worn as head gear. Telescopic lens can assist with safe mobility outside the home. Microwaves can be altered with raised buttons to maintain independence of making quick meals. Light can be adjusted to assist with writing and vision specialists can assist with writing guidance. Large print books and reading materials allow for the continued joys and rituals of reading. Closed circuit television can be utilized to enlarge the print in letters, bills, newspapers, and magazines.
Mobility specialists can assist with teaching ease and safety for getting around. 

Support groups are available to talk about the challenges, frustrations, fears, and unhappiness that can come from living with low vision. 
Kristie Tapper is an advanced practice registered nurse at the Colchester Backus Health Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Tapper or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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