How to Prevent Age-Related Vision Loss
Taking good care of your eyes is a vital aspect of healthy aging. Prevention and treatment can keep your eyes healthier and your vision clearer than your grandparents or great grandparents enjoyed. Today about 30 million Americans age 40 or older suffer from some level of age-related vision loss. The three major risks we face as we age are glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration.
Glaucoma sneaks up on you much like hardening of the arteries. Your vision remains normal and there’s no pain, but it’s detectable through regular checkups which measure the pressure within your eye. It occurs because of a blockage in the normal flow of fluid between the cornea and the lens. Over time, you lose peripheral vision and if left untreated, total blindness can occur.
While everyone is at higher risk of glaucoma after age 60, African Americans over 40 and Mexican Americans are more susceptible. (Medicare covers eye exams for those at high risk.) If your parents suffered from glaucoma, make sure you get your vision checked every two years. Once diagnosed, medicinal eye drops are used to preserve vision for as long as possible. Sometimes surgery is indicated to lower pressure in the eyeball.
Cataracts are the result of clouding over of the eye lens. Again, there is no pain and they develop slowly, usually after 60. If they become large or thick, they are removed surgically and an artificial lens is implanted. Cataract surgery is the most common surgery performed in the U.S. It’s generally safe, but even “successful” cataract surgery can have some negative impacts on your vision, a fact that is very under-reported.
3. Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in people over 60. Age-related macular degeneration vision loss occurs in the center of the eye due to degeneration in the retina. There are two types of age-related macular degeneration — wet and dry. The dry form is caused by deposits in the “macula” of the retina. The wet form is caused by abnormal blood vessels behind the macula that leak into the retina. The dry form can sometimes lead to the wet form. Age-related macular degeneration makes reading and driving very difficult or impossible. Smoking is the biggest risk factor. There is no known cure, however treatments include medications, injections and laser surgery.
What Your Eye Doc May Not Know
Maybe someday, your ophthalmologist or optometrist will hand you a pamphlet detailing the ways nutrition can preserve your vision. But I’ve yet to have that experience. Most treatments are begun only after these diseases are well under way. Yet there are many studies that show that what you eat and the supplements you take have an impact the health of your eyes and prolong your years of healthy eyes and good eyesight. The American Optometric Association estimates that less than 1/3 of Americans improve their nutrition to help ward off or cope with vision loss. Yet studies have shown that specific nutrients and herbs can help stop or prevent age-related vision loss.
Here’s a rundown of what research has shown can help save your eyes:
- Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil can lower your risk of AMD by 38%.
- Vitamin C helps reduce the risk of cataracts. Many Americans don’t get enough.
- Vitamin B6, B12 and folic acid reduced age-related macular degeneration in women by about 1/3 and lowered the risk of severe vision loss by about 40% in a 7-year study.
- Gingko biloba is a potent antioxidant and may improve blood flow in the eyes and possibly help with glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. It seems to improve pre-existing damage from “normal tension” glaucoma and improves color vision in those with early diabetic retinopathy.
- Bilberry has been associated with improvement of night vision and preliminary research has indicated that bilberry consumption may play a role in inhibiting eye disorders, including cataracts and glaucoma.
- Eyebright has been used for eyestrain and to relieve inflammation caused by infections. There is considerable evidence that anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds in the herb may be helpful in cases of conjunctivitis.
- Exercise! One study showed exercise could reduce the risk of wet age-related macular degeneration by up to 70%! Walking as little as 12 blocks on a regular basis can help. Physical activity reduces the type of inflammation that is associated with wet age-related macular degeneration.
Protecting your vision is vital if you want to ensure your health, wellbeing and ability to do things you enjoy as you age. Research has shown that the three leading causes of age-related vision loss are preventable with a sound diet and supplements. If you want to retain your ability to see clearly as you age, be sure that you are getting the nutritional support you need from nutrient-dense foods and supplements. It’s never too late to start!
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Article updated on: March 27th, 2014