If you have 20/20 vision, or wear glasses or contacts to correct your vision, you may think you’re doing everything right to protect your eyesight. But as you get older, you have a higher risk of common causes of blindness, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.
Reduce Your Risk
“You can take steps to reduce this risk,” says J. Scott Lane, MD, an ophthalmologist at Cleveland Clinic Willoughby Hills Family Health Center. To protect your vision long term, Dr. Lane recommends that you:
- Mind the sun. It’s just as important to protect your eyes as it is to protect your skin. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage the front and back of your eyes and contribute to a number of problems that lead to vision loss. Choose a good-quality pair of sunglasses that wrap around your eye area. And make sure the lenses provide 100 percent UV spectrum protection.
- Get your vitamins. Research shows that a number of nutrients can help protect your vision. They include vitamin A (found in animal-based foods such as liver, oily fish and cheese), vitamin C (found in many fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (found in sunflower seeds, nuts, avocado and plant oil) and lutein (found in leafy green vegetables).
- Follow the 20/20/20 rule. Staring at a computer, smartphone or tablet screen for hours every day strains your eyes. (Computer vision syndrome is a real thing.) Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away, relax your eyes and let yourself blink.
When To Get Your Eyes Checked
The most important way to keep your eyes healthy, however, is to have regular eye exams.
“Seeing an eye doctor isn’t just for getting an updated glasses prescription,” says Dr. Lane. “Eye exams can help detect early signs of eye disease, even those not yet causing symptoms. It’s best to treat these conditions early to minimize vision loss.”
The American Optometric Association recommends this schedule for healthy adults:
- Ages 18-39: At least one eye exam every two years.
- Ages 40-64: One eye exam per year.
- Ages 65 and older: Two eye exams per year.
If you have an eye condition or other medical condition, schedule eye exams as recommended by your health care provider. And if you notice a sudden change in your vision, see your eye doctor — either an optometrist or ophthalmologist — as soon as possible.
Both optometrists (who have an “OD” after their name) and ophthalmologists (who have an “MD” or “DO” after their name) can conduct exams and prescribe glasses or contact lenses. Both also can prescribe medication and treat most eye diseases, although only ophthalmologists perform eye surgery. If you have a serious eye condition, you’ll typically see a specialist (ophthalmologist).
Floaters And Flashes: Should You Be Concerned?
Almost everybody at some point will see shadows of spots, specks or threads floating through their field of vision. These “floaters” are bits of debris inside your eye that appear when you look at something white or very bright.
“Flashes” often accompany floaters. They look like a camera flash going off when you close your eyes or wake up in the middle of the night.
Floaters and flashes are usually caused by a detachment of the innermost layer of your eye. This posterior vitreous detachment occurs naturally as you get older, typically around ages 55 to 60. However, floaters and flashes also can be caused by damage, bleeding, infection, inflammation and, rarely, a tumor in your eye.
If you’ve had floaters for years, you don’t need to see an eye doctor. But if you’ve suddenly started seeing many floaters, or if you see flashes, it’s time to get to the doctor.
Flashes can signal an irritation in your retina (the back of your eye). Sometimes, torn or detached retinas are a medical emergency, requiring prompt treatment to save your vision.
Vision Changes After 40
As you age, the muscles in your eyes gradually lose their ability to focus at different distances (presbyopia). The lens in your eye, which is normally clear, begins to get cloudy (cataract). These changes happen to everybody, usually starting around age 40.
But not every vision change is age-related. See your doctor if you notice:
- Changes in color perception.
- Worsening peripheral vision or parts of your vision that are missing.
- Double vision.
- Sudden vision changes.
- Vision that does not improve with reading glasses from the pharmacy.
Rest assured, presbyopia and other eye conditions are treatable. From glasses and contacts to implants and surgery, there is a wide range of options to help you see clearly again.
Your Eyes Can Reveal Other Health Problems
Eye exams can reveal more than just eye health. They can reveal diseases affecting your whole body. For example, your eyes can show signs of:
- Diabetes. The blood vessels in your eyes can be damaged by diabetes even before you have any vision problems. Laser treatment and medication can repair these blood vessels. Severe bleeding may require surgery.
- High blood pressure. Impaired blood flow to your eye can be the first clue that you have a blood pressure problem. Blocked blood vessels in your eye could even predict a future stroke.
- Inflammatory conditions. Inflammation in the eye — which can cause permanent damage if not treated — can be a sign of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis and lupus.
- Metastatic cancer. Melanoma can show up in your eyes. So can breast cancer, which can be detected in your eyes before other tests show it has spread.
“Vision changes can be the first symptom of other health problems,” says Dr. Lane.
26 Convenient Locations Across Northeast Ohio
Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute offers a comprehensive range of eye care services including routine eye examinations and evaluation and treatment of the following: cataract, glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, pediatric eye conditions, macular degeneration, dry eye, eyelid disease, laser vision correction, advanced technology lens implants and cosmetic eyelid surgery.
Visit Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute to learn more, or call 216-444-2020 to schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist or optometrist today.