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Vision often worsens as you age
Health advice
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Are you one of the 76 million baby boomers in the United States who are discovering that their bodies aren’t able to do things the way they used to?
Is it harder to keep up with “kids” 20 years younger? Is sleep a necessity when you could once drive or party all night and still be raring to go the next day?
And how are your eyes — can you read fine print or do you need a magnifying glass on top of your regular glasses? Do you have to put the item you’re trying to see in Long County before it comes into focus?
The last problem starts to affect many people as they near 40, and can be aggravating since small items must be held at arm’s length in order to be able to view them clearly.
Called presbyopia, this condition occurs as the eyes gradually lose their ability to focus on objects in close range. A normal result of aging, presbyopia affects most people over the age of 40 and everybody over the age of 51. Presbyopia diminishes the natural ability to bring near objects into focus because the lens inside the eye loses its flexibility.
Our vision changes naturally throughout our lives. Examples of normal changes that occur with age are:
• Your eyes need more light to see.
• It becomes harder to tell the difference between some colors, particularly shades of blue and green.
• It becomes difficult to focus on things that are near.
• Adjusting to glare and darkness can become more troublesome.
Prevention is an important aspect of health care especially when it comes to age-related eye diseases that may affect your sight. Nearly half of the 50,000 Americans who lose their sight each year go blind needlessly.
Eye screenings do not replace a professional eye examination, but it can help identify individuals who are at risk for eye disease. Finding eye disease in its early, treatable stages is very important since this can save sight, which we rely on more than any other sense.
The leading causes of blindness will double their impact in the coming years as the nation’s baby boomers grow older. Unless drastic changes occur or science discovers new cures, experts estimate that twice as many people will be blind by the year 2030 as are today. Macular degeneration will continue to be the leading cause of blindness and the total cases of glaucoma are expected to double.
The diseases described below are not examples of normal changes that occur with age but are instead diseases that may affect your sight. The only way to know if you have a potentially dangerous disease is to see your eye doctor and plan routine examinations.
• Macular degeneration is a degenerative disease that affects the macula — a small spot in the central area of the retina located at the back of the eye. The macula is responsible for sight in the center of the field of vision and is the most sensitive part of the retina. This condition affects central vision and is the most common cause of new cases of visual impairment among those over 65.
A tendency to develop macular degeneration may be seen in some families because of genetic factors, and the disease is believed to be associated with arteriosclerosis, eye trauma or other conditions that are not yet clearly understood. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more and more obvious and may include:
• Straight lines in your field of vision, such as telephone poles, the sides of buildings and streetlight posts appear wavy.
• Type in books, magazines and newspapers appears blurry; and
• Dark or empty spaces may block the center of your vision.
The most common cause of vision loss among people over the age of 60, macular degeneration impacts millions of older adults every year.
• Glaucoma is a group of diseases usually associated with increased pressure within the eye. This extra pressure can cause damage to the cells that form the optic nerve — the structure responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain. Damage is progressive with loss of peripheral vision first, followed by reductions in central vision and, potentially, blindness.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness, accounting for between nine and 12 percent of all cases. In the vast majority of cases, especially in early stages, there are few signs or symptoms. In the later stages of the disease, symptoms may include:
• Loss of side vision.
• An inability to adjust the eye to darkened rooms.
• Difficulty focusing on close work.
• Rainbow colored rings or halos around lights.
• Frequent need to change eyeglass prescriptions.
• Diabetic retinopathy is an eye disease that affects the small blood vessels in the retina (the back layer of the eye) of people with diabetes. One of the complications associated with the circulatory problems of people with diabetes, diabetic retinopathy is a major cause of vision loss and blindness.
In some instances, retinopathy may appear within the first year or two after the onset of diabetes and may be one of the first signs of diabetes. Early treatment of retinopathy often improves the potential for saving sight. Every person with diabetes should receive regular care from a doctor and follow the prescribed treatment plan.
• Retinal tear or detachment: The retina is a thin layer of light-sensitive nerve fibers and cells that covers the inside and back of the eyeball. To be able to see, light must pass through the lens of the eye and focus on the retina. The retina then acts like a camera, taking a picture and transmitting the image through the optic nerve to the brain. Vitreous fluid is attached to the retina around the back of the eye. If the vitreous changes shape, it may pull a piece of the retina with it, leaving a retinal tear. Once a retinal tear occurs, vitreous fluid may seep between the retina and the back wall of the eye, causing the retina to pull away. This results in a retinal detachment.
Retinal tears and detachments are not visible from the outside of the eye and only a comprehensive eye exam can detect them. If you suspect a problem, it is important that you see an eye surgeon immediately. Only a complete eye examination through dilated pupils along with other specialized testing is adequate to diagnose the disease and the doctor will need to act quickly to try to repair the damage and prevent permanent vision loss.
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