Dr. Wood on How to Keep Aging Eyes Healthy
Just like the rest of your body, your eyes can change with age. But many times, protecting your vision isn’t part of the mainstream conversation when it comes to healthy aging.
“While your primary care doctor and peers may regularly discuss heart health, blood pressure, and cholesterol, eye health isn’t as regularly discussed, explains retina specialist Dr. Edward Wood.
Eyesight can be overlooked in healthy aging because many visual changes occur gradually over time, and it can be hard to detect the slow decline. Similarly, sometimes only one eye may be affected by vision loss, but the other eye may compensate, and therefore it can be hard to notice the change. Dr. Wood recommends performing a self-exam from time to time by closing one eye to assess vision individually. This may be the only way to tell if one eye is making up for decreased vision in the other eye.
Some age-related vision conditions can permanently affect your vision, including age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment. The earlier these problems are detected and treated, the more likely it is you can preserve good vision.
Ways to Protect Aging Eyes
Dr. Wood says there is a significant amount of evidence that shows keeping yourself in good health decreases age-related eye disease. He shares the following tips to protect your vision as you age.
Eat a balanced diet
A diet high in antioxidants has been shown to be beneficial for the eye. A Mediterranean diet, which consists of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fish, can be especially helpful for age-related macular degeneration. For those living with AMD, taking a vitamin formulation called AREDS2 may be beneficial to reduce the progression of disease. The AREDS2 vitamin formulation contains vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, copper, and carotenoid molecules lutein and zeaxanthin.
Regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can be very beneficial for eye health. In addition to the cardiovascular benefits of exercise, many studies have found that regular exercise over the course of several years reduces the risk of vision loss. This is likely a result of improved blood flow, less inflammation, and less oxidative stress.
Control Blood Sugar and Blood Pressure
The cells in your retina are very sensitive to changes in metabolism and blood flow. Maintaining a steady blood sugar and blood pressure is less stressful for your body and the cells in your eye.
Current and former smokers have a higher rate of macular degeneration and cataracts compared to non-smokers. If you smoke, quitting is likely the single most beneficial thing you can do for your eye health.
Wear Sun Protection
When in bright sunlight, wearing a hat and sunglasses is helpful to protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) damage. Increased UV light can cause changes to the metabolism of cells in the retina and lens. It is important that sunglasses protect against both UV-A and UV-B light.
Schedule Regular Eye Examinations
The best way to preserve your vision is to schedule a comprehensive eye examination. In addition to detecting eye conditions, eye exams can reveal important changes in your overall health, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
“It’s helpful to be aware of eye emergency symptoms, including sudden vision loss, an increase in floaters and/or flashes of light, consistent eye pain, double vision, and redness or swelling in or around the eye,” says Dr. Wood. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.