Are you struggling to read these words right now? Do they look cloudy, dark or spotty in some places? When was the last time you had an eye exam? If you cannot remember, then maybe it’s time for a checkup.
Healthy aging involves monitoring all parts of the body and the eyes are no exception. Eye disease can affect anyone but it’s particularly important for those of advancing age to monitor the health of their eyes.
African-American seniors are at high risk for eye disease and blindness – more than twice as likely to develop diabetic retinopathy and four times more likely to go blind from glaucoma as compared to their white counterparts.
When it comes to eye concerns there are several diseases for which physicians will look during exams for the elderly.
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve. When fluid builds on the front part of the eye it causes intraocular pressure and, in turn, damage to the nerves. There are two forms of glaucoma: primary open-angle and angular closure. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 and it does not typically present symptoms. Open-angle glaucoma cannot be prevented but vision loss can be prevented with early treatment.
Cataract is clouding of the eye’s natural lens. When people develop cataracts, things tend to look cloudy, lights seem brighter or colors seem faded. Cataracts is the leading cause of vision loss and African Americans are 1.5 times more likely to develop it. The good news is cataract can be treated with bifocal glasses or other visual aids in its early stages. Surgery to remove cataracts is a common, successful outpatient procedure and most patients regain improved vision.
As the name implies, diabetic retinopathy is related to diabetes and African Americans are twice as likely to develop it. When blood sugar levels remain high for an extended period it can cause damage to the blood vessels in the retina. Diabetic Retinopathy [DR] doesn’t present symptoms in the early stages but it can cause blindness if it isn’t caught. DR is irreversible but early detection and controlling blood sugars can prevent further damage.
It’s difficult to imagine that high blood pressure can affect the eyes but it can. Similar to diabetes, blood pressure that has been elevated for a long period of time can damage the blood in the retina. It can also cause damage to the eye nerves.
Dr. Andrea Joseph, optometrist and co-owner of Joseph and Bass Eye Associates, located at Andrews Air Force Base in Temple Hills, Maryland, says regular eye exams remain the first line of defense.
“A lot of people don’t come to the doctor until they start having problems. But remember diseases such as glaucoma are incurable. Regular eye exams allow us to catch this disease early and then prescribe medication to prevent the effects of vision loss or creating any more damage.”
In many cases, eye diseases are age related and it is highly recommended that seniors get their exams every one-to-two-years to prevent further decline. Most eye diseases are silent and while patients would not typically report any discomfort a dilated eye exam can reveal a deeper issue.
Dr. Joseph offers three health tips for good vision preservation.
“Wearing sunglasses to protect against the effects of UV rays is good to do. Maintaining a good diet that includes lots of antioxidants and vitamins will help. And don’t smoke. People may not make the connection right away but smoking can increase the risk of eye disease.”
Keep your eyes healthy by adhering to the guidelines for regularly scheduled eye exams and maintaining good overall health. A good pair of eyes is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Candace Y.A. Montague is an award-winning freelance health journalist in Washington, D.C. She has been contributed to several print and online news organizations including The Washington Post and The Black AIDS Institute Weekly Newsletter. Follow her on Twitter @urbanbushwoman9.