There are some things about aging that are inevitable. Your hearing decreases with age, and while limiting exposure to loud sounds can prevent some loss, you cannot prevent it all. Therefore, it might seem logical to assume that your ability to see 20/20 would also decrease with age, but this is not necessarily the case! If you cannot see at 20/20 vision, regardless of age, your eye doctor should determine why. Decreased vision can happen due to changes that occur anywhere from the front of the eye (cornea) to the inside back of the eye (retina) or by changes in the visual system of the brain. But many issues that cause the loss of your best corrected vision can either be resolved, prevented or slowed with healthy lifestyle choices and regular visits to your eye doctor.
Below I’ve listed some common problems – and a few myths – about issues that can affect your vision and what you can do to address them.
Prolonged, cumulative exposure to UV light is the biggest cause of cataracts, the yellowing and clouding of your eyes’ natural lenses that will ultimately obscure your sight. While aging means more cumulative exposure to UV light and greater likelihood that cataracts develop, cataracts are also highly treatable and progression can be slowed by sunglasses.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve, the fibers inside the eye that carry visual images to the brain. Glaucoma is best treated when caught early, and regular eye examinations with your optometrist are very important. Vision loss is best prevented or slowed by a good diet, not smoking, and aerobic exercise.
Macular degeneration, often called age-related macular degeneration or AMD, is a disease associated with aging that causes vision loss in the center of your vision. The disease affects the center of the retina called the macula which is used for fine central vision such as reading, recognizing faces, and recognizing colors. With recent advances in modern medicine, many types of macular degeneration now have treatments. We recommend a healthy diet and lifestyle and regular, comprehensive eye exams to screen for this disease.
The Myth of Overuse
Many of my patients ask if they are damaging their eyes by “using them too much.” While you can get a headache or tension around the eyes from too much computer or near work, this will not cause permanent damage. Reading also comes up as a common source of concern. Many elderly patients with macular degeneration tell me they are afraid to read because it may worsen their condition, and “You will ruin your eyes if you read in the dark!” is a popular saying. The biggest problem with reading in the dark is that you cannot see, perhaps an obvious statement but it’s as simple as that! You cannot hurt your eyes by using them whether in bright or dim light. I encourage my patients to keep reading (good lighting helps!) to keep mind and body active and healthy.