Most adults between the ages of 19 and 40 enjoy healthy eyes and good vision. The most common eye and vision problems for people in this age group are due to visual stress and eye injuries. By maintaining a healthy lifestyle and protecting your eyes from stress and injury, you can avoid many eye and vision problems.
Good vision is important as you pursue a college degree, begin your career, or perhaps start and raise a family. Here are some things you can do to maintain healthy eyes and good vision:
- Eat a balanced diet. As part of a healthful diet, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Choose foods rich in antioxidants, like leafy, green vegetables and fish.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking exposes your eyes to high levels of noxious chemicals and increases the risk for developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
- Get regular exercise. Exercise improves blood circulation, increases oxygen levels to the eyes and helps remove toxins.
- Protect your eyes from the sun. The sun emits harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can damage your eyes over the long term. Choose sunglasses with UV-A and UV-B protection with adequate coverage. Additionally, use sunscreen around the delicate skin around your eyes, and wear a hat or visor in addition to sunglasses to improve protection.
- Protect your eyes from short-wavelength visible light. Most digital devices and newer LED and fluorescent lights emit more wavelengths near the shorter, or bluer, part of the spectrum. High and continual exposure to these wavelengths can cause slow damage to the retina, which may result in problems like age-related macular degeneration later in life. Special glasses and lens coatings are available to block short-wavelength visible light.
- Get periodic eye examinations. Although vision generally remains stable during these years, problems may develop without any obvious signs or symptoms. The best way to protect your vision is through regularly scheduled professional eye examinations.
Beginning in the early to mid-40s, many adults may start to have problems seeing clearly at close distances, especially when reading and working on the computer. This is among the most common problems adults develop between ages 41 to 60. This normal change in the eye’s focusing ability, called presbyopia, will continue to progress over time.
Initially, you may need to hold reading materials farther away to see them clearly. Or you may need to remove your glasses to see better up close. Print in the newspaper or on a restaurant menu may appear blurred, especially under dim lighting.
If you already wear prescription glasses or contact lenses to see clearly in the distance, these changes in your near vision can be corrected by switching to bifocal or multifocal lenses. Fortunately, people with presbyopia now have many options to improve their vision.
Adults over 40 who have the following health or work issues may be particularly at risk for developing eye and vision problems:
- Chronic, systemic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
- A family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration.
- A highly visually demanding job or work in an eye-hazardous occupation.
- Health conditions related to high cholesterol, thyroid, anxiety or depression, and arthritis for which you take medications. Many medications, even antihistamines, have vision side effects.
As you reach your 60s and beyond, you need to be aware of the warning signs of age-related eye health problems that could cause vision loss. Many eye diseases have no early symptoms. They may develop painlessly, and you may not notice the changes to your vision until the condition is quite advanced. Wise lifestyle choices, regular eye exams and early detection of disease can significantly improve your chances of maintaining good eye health and vision as you age.
You may not realize that health problems affecting other parts of your body can affect your vision as well. People with diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), or who are taking medications that have eye-related side effects, are at greatest risk for developing vision problems.
Regular eye exams are even more important as you reach your senior years. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for everyone over age 60. See your doctor of optometry immediately if you notice any changes in your vision.
In the years after you turn 60, a number of eye diseases may develop that can change your vision permanently. The earlier these problems are detected and treated, the more likely you can retain good vision.
The following are some vision disorders to be aware of:
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that affects the macula (the center of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye) and causes central vision loss. Although small, the macula is the part of the retina that allows us to see fine detail and colors. Activities like reading, driving, watching TV and recognizing faces all require good central vision provided by the macula. While macular degeneration decreases central vision, peripheral or side vision remains unaffected.
- Cataracts are cloudy or opaque areas in the normally clear lens of the eye. Depending upon their size and location, they can interfere with normal vision. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other. Cataracts can cause blurry vision, decreased contrast sensitivity, dulling of colors and increased sensitivity to glare.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs in people with diabetes. It is the result of progressive damage to the tiny blood vessels that nourish the retina. These damaged blood vessels leak blood and other fluids that cause retinal tissue to swell and cloud vision. The condition usually affects both eyes. The longer a person has diabetes, the greater the risk for developing diabetic retinopathy. In addition, the instability of a person’s glucose measurements over time can impact the development and/or severity of the condition. At its most severe, diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness.
- Dry eye is a condition in which a person produces too few or poor-quality tears. Tears maintain the health of the front surface of the eye and provide clear vision. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults.
- Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterized by damage to the optic nerve resulting in vision loss. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans and older adults have a higher risk of developing the disease. Glaucoma is often painless and can have no symptoms. Over time, it can take away peripheral (side) vision.
- Retinal detachment is a tearing or separation of the retina from the underlying tissue. Retinal detachment most often occurs spontaneously due to changes to the gel-like vitreous fluid that fills the back of the eye. Other causes include trauma to the eye or head, health problems like advanced diabetes, and inflammatory eye disorders. If not treated promptly, it can cause permanent vision loss.
Adult Eye Exams