Problems will get worse as we age
By Barbara Pierce
For most of us, the fear of losing our sight is huge. The thought of not being able to see is worse than our fear of cancer or having a heart attack or stroke; it’s the worst possible thing that could happen to us.
Many of the things that cause eye problems and vision loss are genetic or age-related, said experts in optometry.
“Like the rest of our body, our eyes can present more problems as we age,” he said. “Things like cataracts, macular degeneration, glaucoma—all are age-related and become more prevalent as we age.”
However, the good news is that nearly all vision changes, including those that are age-related, can be treated. Regular eye exams can catch problems before they can develop into something more serious.
Eye problems happen to people of all ages. And, although many causes of vision loss can’t be prevented, many can be avoided or stopped from becoming serious by taking these simple suggestions from Wadas.
• Too much screen time: Device use—whether our computer, tablet, mobile phone, or TV—plays an important part of our everyday lives. Adults in the U.S. spend almost half of each day interacting with screens. Those older than 60 spend even more time each day.
The impact of so much exposure to our blue-light-emitting devices is being studied more and more, said Wadas. Blue light rays can be harmful to the eyes, doing a multiple of bad things, including causing early formation of cataracts. Also, it can predispose you to macular degeneration.
“Everybody develops cataracts,” said Wadas. “100% of people older than 65 have some cataracts, due to age and environment. There’s nothing you can do to prevent them.” Cataracts can be treated with surgery, which is generally a safe, effective procedure.
“But not everyone will develop macular degeneration,” he added. It’s the leading cause of vision loss in people older than 65 and occurs when the macula, a part of the retina, becomes damaged. Medication may slow the disease.
• To protect your eyes when using screens: “Blink!” advised Wadas. “We tend to be like zombies on our devices; we don’t blink. We normally blink 12 to 15 times per minute. But, if we’re like a zombie, we don’t blink. Blinking is beneficial to the eyes because, as our upper eyelid hits our lower eyelid, it causes moisture, which is helpful. Less blinking equals dry irritated eyes.”
Also, follow the 20-20-20 rule. Wadas suggests: “Look away every 20 minutes, focus on an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.”
Looking into the distance allows your eyes to relax.
If you’re squinting to see your screen, bump up the font size so your eyes don’t have to work so hard.
Swap contact lenses for glasses while using the computer, as contacts can dry out and irritate your eyes, especially if you’re not blinking enough.
Sit about 25 inches, an arm’s length, away from the screen and position the height of your screen so that you’re looking slightly downward at it.
There’s evidence that blue light may affect your body’s sleep cycle, so don’t use devices before bed. Too much blue light exposure at night from your phone may make it harder to get to sleep. Limit screen time one to two hours before bedtime.
For children, looking at a device up close every day can cause nearsightedness. This is another thing being studied, said Wadas.
Also, being studied is the use of contact lenses for screen time to slow the onset of myopia; this is a blossoming field, he added.
• Excessive exposure to UV light from the sun is another thing that harms eyes and can cause premature cataracts and macular degeneration.
“I recommend that all my patients wear sunglasses,” said Wadas. “They don’t have to be prescription lenses as all sunglasses do block UV light. People like farmers or beach bums who are outside a lot often need cataract surgery at an early age. It’s always a smart idea to wear sunglasses, especially if you have light colored eyes—blue or hazel.”
• Smoking can have detrimental effect on the eyes, as it does with everything else, said Wadas. You’re more at risk for cataracts and at risk for macular degeneration. Smokers have four times the risk of development macular degeneration than nonsmokers. If you smoke 15 or more cigarettes a day, your chance of developing cataracts is three times greater than that of a nonsmoker.
Even hanging around smokers, being exposed to secondhand smoke, can be harmful to your sight.
A yearly eye exam for everyone older than 50 is recommended, even if you’re not experiencing any vision problems. Early detection and treatment will protect your vision.