Caring For Your Aging Eyes
Even if you’ve had 20/20 vision all your life, as you get older you may face vision problems, from dry eye to cataracts and macular degeneration. Drs. Allison Jensen, Lawson Grumbine, and Katie Duncan, ophthalmologists at the Eye Center at GBMC, talked with Mary Beth Marsden about the many different ways that getting older can affect the health of your eyes and vision, and what you can do to keep your eyes as healthy as possible.
“The best thing you can do for your eyes is to follow healthy habits throughout your life,” said Dr. Grumbine. “Eat a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, get regular exercise, and do not smoke. If you have chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s recommendations to control your condition because uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure can cause serious damage to your eyes as well as the rest of your body.”
Among the many issues the doctors discussed were glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, and declining vision as you age. Explained Dr. Jensen, “As we reach middle age, the lens in the eye hardens, which means it can’t focus as well and we become more farsighted. By getting annual eye exams, your doctor can detect these changes and prescribe glasses or contacts to help you see more clearly.”
Added Dr. Grumbine, “If you wait long enough, you will develop cataracts. It’s part of the eye’s natural aging process. The lens gets cloudy and eventually it’s no longer correctable with glasses. That’s when it’s time to consider cataract surgery. It’s an outpatient procedure. No general anesthesia is needed and in most cases the surgery takes about 30 minutes.”
He highlighted the common symptoms of cataracts, which include blurry vision, glare or halos around lights when driving at night, fading color vision, and the need for brighter light when reading or doing close work.”
Dr. Duncan explained the difference between the two types of macular degeneration (dry and wet, the more severe form) and said that while there are some genetic factors that can increase your risk, there are also risk factors that you can control and lower your risk, including high blood pressure and smoking. She added that a special formulation of vitamins called AREDS and AREDS2 has been shown in studies to slow the progression of dry macular degeneration, but that there are no FDA-approved stem cell treatments for the disease.
The doctors also discussed eye muscle problems that can start when children are under the age of one and the fact that studies have linked an increase in kids’ screen time with a rise in the number of people who are nearsighted. Dr. Jensen’s advice: “Studies show that the more time children spend outside, the less nearsighted they are, so add that to the benefits of getting outdoors to play.”