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Queens Chronicle

Protect and monitor your eyes as you get older

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am

Are you holding the newspaper farther away from your eyes than you used to? Join the crowd — age can bring changes that affect your eyesight. Some changes are more serious than others, but for many problems, there are things you can do to protect your vision. The National Institute on Aging, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, offers the following tips on protecting your eyesight and problems that can develop.

Have your eyes checked regularly by an eye care professional — either an ophthalmologist or optometrist. People over age 65 should have yearly eye exams. During this exam, the eye care professional should put drops in your eyes that will widen your pupils so that he or she can look at the back of each eye. This is the only way to find some common eye diseases that have no early signs or symptoms. If you wear glasses, your prescription should be checked too.

See your doctor regularly to check for diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure. These diseases can cause eye problems if not treated.

See an eye care professional right away if you:

Suddenly cannot see or everything looks blurry

See flashes of light

Have eye pain

Experience double vision

Have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid.

Common Eye Problems

The following common eye problems can be easily treated. But, sometimes they can be signs of more serious issues.

Presbyopia is a slow loss of ability to see close objects or small print. It is normal to have this as you get older. People with presbyopia often have headaches or strained, tired eyes. Reading glasses usually fix the problem.

Floaters are tiny specks or “cobwebs” that seem to float across your vision. You might see them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters can be a normal part of aging. But sometimes they are a sign of a more serious eye problem such as retinal detachment. If you see many new floaters and/or flashes of light, see your eye care professional right away. This is a medical emergency.

Tearing (or having too many tears) can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes, or having dry eyes. Wearing sunglasses may help, as might trying eye drops. Sometimes tearing is a sign of a more serious eye problem, like an infection or a blocked tear duct. Your eye care professional can treat these problems.

Eyelid problems can result from different diseases or conditions. Common ones include red and swollen eyelids, itching, tearing, and crusting of eyelashes during sleep. These problems may be caused by a condition called blepharitis (ble-fa-RI-tis) and treated with warm compresses and gentle eyelid scrubs.

Eye Diseases And Disorders

The following eye conditions can lead to vision loss and blindness. They may have few or no early symptoms. Regular eye exams are your best protection. If your eye care professional finds a problem early, there are things you can do to keep your eyesight.

Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye’s lens causing blurred or hazy vision. Some cataracts stay small and don’t change your eyesight a lot. Others become large and reduce vision. Cataract surgery can restore good vision. It is a safe and common treatment.

Corneal diseases and conditions can cause redness, watery eyes, pain, problems with vision, or a halo effect of the vision (things appear to have an aura of light around them). Infection and injury are some of the things that can hurt the cornea. Some problems with the cornea are more common in older people. Treatment may be simple, though in severe cases, surgery may be needed.

Dry eye happens when tear glands don’t work well. You may feel itching, burning, or other discomfort. Your eye care professional may tell you to use a home humidifier, special eye drops (artificial tears), or ointments to treat it.

Glaucoma often comes from too much fluid pressure inside the eye. If not treated, it can lead to blindness. People with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain. You can protect yourself by having regular dilated eye exams. Glaucoma can be treated with prescription eye drops, lasers, or surgery.

Retinal disorders are a leading cause of blindness, and include:

Age-related macular degeneration, which can harm the sharp vision needed to see objects clearly and to do common things like driving and reading. During a dilated eye exam, your eye care professional will look for signs of AMD. There are treatments for AMD, and dietary supplements could lower your chance of it getting worse.

Diabetic retinopathy, a problem that may occur if you have diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy develops slowly and with no early warning signs. If you have diabetes, be sure to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year. Keeping your blood sugar under control can prevent diabetic retinopathy or slow its progress. Laser surgery can sometimes prevent it from getting worse.

Retinal detachment, which is a medical emergency. If you see new floaters or light flashes, or if it seems like a curtain has been pulled over your eye, go to your eye care professional right away. With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can prevent loss of vision.

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