As we get older, our eyes go through some changes – so regular check-ups are essential for preventing vision loss.
Vision is one of the most precious gifts we have. As we get older, changes to our eyes mean our sight becomes more vulnerable.
Almost all of us will experience some degree of presbyopia – difficulty focusing on objects up close or reading small print. This is caused by a natural loss of elasticity in the lens of the eye. Luckily, reading glasses provide a simple solution.
But getting older also brings a risk of more serious eye conditions. If left untreated, these diseases can potentially lead to significant vision loss and blindness.
Ageing eye conditions you need to know about
Some of the most common eye issues to be aware of are:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is a tiny but important part of the retina, the back of the eye, which works a bit like the film in a camera. AMD can lead to loss of central vision, making it difficult to read and recognise faces.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, the connection between the eye and the brain. This can cause gradual vision loss, usually starting with the peripheral or side vision.
- Diabetic retinopathy. A complication of diabetes (types 1 and 2) that can damage the tiny blood vessels of the retina, the back of the eye.
- Cataracts. A clouding of the lens of the eye, causing blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Almost all of us will develop cataracts by the age of 80.
The good news is, most vision loss can be prevented if caught early enough. But it’s important to know that these conditions often have no symptoms until the disease has advanced. That’s why regular check-ups with an optometrist or ophthalmologist are essential.
How to prevent vision loss
There are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance of protecting your sight.
Get regular eye health checks
“Everyone over 50 should have an eye exam once a year or every two years,” says Professor Robyn Guymer, a leading expert in ageing eye disease and Deputy Director at the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
“If you just buy your reading glasses online or at the chemist, you miss the chance to engage with an eye health professional and get checked for signs of conditions you might not know about. And once you have vision loss from eye disease, it’s harder for us to treat than if we could stop you from losing it in the first place.”
“Smoking is a big risk factor for a number of eye diseases. In particular, it increases your risk of age-related macular degeneration six-fold,” Professor Guymer says. The sooner you stop smoking, the better. Talk to your GP or contact Quitline for help with quitting.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
Good nutrition benefits your whole body, including your eyes. “As a general rule, we all know fruits and vegetables are good for us,” Professor Guymer says.
“For the eyes, there is some evidence that dark leafy greens like spinach and silverbeet and yellow vegetables like corn may be beneficial. Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil may also help.”
Wear sun protection
Just like your skin, your eyes are vulnerable to damage from the sun. “There is some evidence that too much exposure to UV light over time can increase your risk of cataracts,” Professor Guymer says.
Make a habit of wearing a wide-brimmed hat and good sunglasses when you go outdoors – together they can block up to 98% of UV radiation.
Monitor your vision at home
If you have early signs of AMD, you can monitor your vision with a simple test called an Amsler grid. Once a week, cover one eye and look at the grid, then swap to the other eye.
“The big worry sign is distortion,” Professor Guymer says. “If you notice any significant vision changes like wavy, distorted or blurred lines, or dark areas or ‘holes’ in the grid, that are consistently there, see your eye care professional.”