7:01pm

Sun January 19, 2014
Health

Keeping an eye on aging and your sight

With age comes a variety of health issues. But what can you do if age brings conditions that impact your sight? This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Sheila West, professor and researcher at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins describes age-related eye disorders, and ways to slow and treat them.

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Some people may just have to deal with reading glasses and bifocals as they age. But others may have to deal with more serious diseases. Dr. West says there are main causes of vision loss related to age – cataract, macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetes.

Cataract is one of the most common causes of vision loss in seniors. Cataract means a clouding of the eye’s nuclear lens. It’s a condition that comes on rather slowly.

It’s like “looking through a shower curtain,” says Dr. West. Things look blurry and colors change and eventually there is vision loss. It most common occurs in people over 65, but early onset cataract can sometimes strike people in their 50s.

The good news is that cataract surgery has become very simple, and patients can be in and out of surgery the same day. Dr. West says it usually is done without even a stitch and most patients recover vision almost immediately.

“It’s one of the most cost-effective interventions that we have to restore sight,” she said.

Probably the leading cause of vision loss in older Caucasians is macular degeneration, which is a deterioration of the retina, which is right in the center of vision. Dr. West says as Americans are living longer and longer, more of these cases are occurring – generally in people over 70.

Family history is one of the strongest indicators that you might be at risk for macular degeneration. If an immediate family member has had the disease, Dr. West recommends you get checked by an ophthalmologist. She says that early detection and diagnosis is important because some forms of macular degeneration can be slowed or even reversed with treatment.

Dr. West says that studies about whether wearing sunglasses help prevent macular degeneration have had mixed results. But, since it’s an easy thing to do, it’s not a bad thing to try, she says.

Glaucoma is a disease that causes a loss of optic nerve function. It’s more common in African American and Latino populations. The biggest risk other than family history, says Dr. West, is interocular pressure. Yearly checkups for eye pressure as you get older are recommended. The progression of glaucoma can be treated with eye drops.

Dr. West says while none of these diseases can be prevented, but if detected early, intervention and treatment can help. So Dr. West recommends after age 65, to get a full eye exam from a professional who can examine the back of the eye and test for these diseases. This kind of exam is generally performed by an ophthalmologist rather than an optician, who prescribes glasses and contact lenses.

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