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Can You See Me Now?

Vision may be the most precious of our senses. Too bad many of us take it for granted.

 

But we shouldn’t. By age 65, one-third of the U.S. population has some form of sight-impairing disease. And in many cases, serious eye disorders give no warning signs.

 

Fortunately, many vision problems are preventable. This report outlines common threats to eye health and simple steps to neutralize them.

 

Common Vision Problems

The most frequently diagnosed eye problems include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Dry eye
  • Refractive errors such as nearsightedness and farsightedness

The most significant threats are the first four.

 

1. AMD: This disease affects more than 10 million people in the U. S. and is a major cause of sight loss in those age 65 and older. AMD has two forms—“wet” and “dry”—both of which damage central vision.

 

2. Diabetic retinopathy: A side effect of diabetes, the disease is a leading cause of adult blindness. Diabetics are 25 times more likely to become blind than non-diabetics. About 11 percent of U.S. diabetics have visual impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

3. Glaucoma: It’s been called the “sneak thief of sight” because the disease often has no warning symptoms. Glaucoma is a primary cause of blindness in the U. S. and the No. 1 cause in African-Americans. About 3 million people are estimated to have glaucoma, half of whom are undiagnosed.

 

4. Cataracts: Usually age-related, cataracts are a clouding of the clear lens of the eye, which causes dim or blurry vision. Risk factors include overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, smoking, diabetes, heredity and previous eye injury. Surgery to remove cataracts is common in older people.

 

Protecting Your Eyes

Most people would guess the workplace is where most eye injuries occur. That’s no longer true.

 

Nearly 45 percent of such accidents take place at home while people are involved in home repairs, yard work, cooking and cleaning.

 

Another 40 percent of eye injuries are sustained during sports or recreation, and fishing is the leisure activity associated with the greatest number of accidents. Doctors advise always wearing appropriate protective eyewear during sports activities.

 

The American Academy of Ophthalmologists recommends that every household have at least one pair of protective goggles or glasses, available in hardware stores. Look for “ANSI Z87.1” on the lens or frame.

 

Wear eye gear when:

  • Using chemicals that could damage the eye
  • Mowing the lawn
  • Trimming shrubs
  • Using a string trimmer
  • Performing any activity that could result in flying debris
  • Cooking with hot fat that’s likely to splatter

If you sustain an eye injury, ophthalmologists advise going to the emergency room immediately, even if the injury seems minor.

 

One of the biggest dangers to your eyes is the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The greater the exposure, the higher the risk of developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

 

Look for wraparound shades that block 97 to 100 percent of UV rays. And if you’re working or playing outdoors, add a broad-brimmed hat for further protection.

 

The Importance Of Screening

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that by age 40, all adults should have a screening for eye disease. The results will provide a baseline to help your eye doctor determine any changes over time. This is especially important because serious eye disease often develops silently.

 

Your doctor will test for the presence of glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, as well as refractive errors such as nearsightedness and astigmatism.

 

Those who have any symptoms of eye disease, a family history of vision disorders, diabetes or high blood pressure shouldn’t wait till age 40. See an ophthalmologist and discuss how often you need to be re-examined.

 

Refractive Errors

About half of Americans age 20 and over have some sort of refractive error. That’s a fancy term for problems caused by an irregularly shaped eye or cornea, the window that focuses light entering the eye. If light doesn’t focus properly, vision is blurred. If the eye is too long, you will be myopic, or nearsighted. If too short, hyperopic, or farsighted.

 

Presbyopia is an age-related inability to focus on objects close up. And astigmatism is distorted vision caused by irregularities in the curve of the cornea.

 

Fortunately, glasses and contact lenses can usually correct these conditions and deliver normal or near-normal vision. In some cases laser eye surgery such as LASIK can provide permanent correction.

 

Contact Lens Concerns

More than 24 million Americans wear contact lenses—usually with few negative consequences.

 

But wearers should carefully follow their doctor’s lens-use guidelines. Failing to do so can lead to keratitis, an infection of the cornea caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.

 

Symptoms can include blurred vision, pain, tearing, redness, discharge, sensitivity to light, and the sensation of having a foreign body in the eye. Keratitis can cause vision loss, so see an ophthalmologist immediately if you suspect an infection.

 

Nutrition For Better Vision

Here’s yet another reason to eat nutritiously: A diet that’s high in antioxidants and certain minerals is believed to reduce the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

 

Key players are:

  • Vitamins A, C and E
  • The bioflavonoids in citrus and other fruits
  • Minerals such as selenium and zinc
  • The lutein and zeaxanthan found in spinach and other greens

The best sources of all these good things? Fruits and vegetables.

 

In addition, the essential fatty acids present in nuts, fish and fish-oil capsules can help relieve dry eyes.

 

People who are at risk for AMD may be able to slow the progression of the disease with a specific formula of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc, according to 2001 findings of the ongoing Age-Related Eye Disease Study sponsored by the U.S. government’s National Eye Institute. Patients who smoke should not take beta-carotene, which is associated with an increase in their risk of lung cancer.

 

If you believe supplements are right for you, discuss them with your doctor.

 

The Role Of Exercise

The body of evidence is still small, but it seems likely that physical activity has a protective effect on the eyes.

 

A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology found that people who regularly walked more than 12 blocks at a time reduced their odds of getting the wet form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by as much as 70 percent.

 

And a pair of 2009 studies conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Life Sciences Division indicates that those who exercise vigorously are less likely to develop cataracts and AMD.

 

Computer Vision Syndrome

If you’ve ever had dry, irritated eyes or blurry vision at the end of a long day in front of a computer screen, you’re not alone.

 

Studies indicate that from 50 to 90 percent of workers who use video display terminals experience some eye discomfort as a result. Reduced performance is another negative consequence.

 

Experts recommend the following measures:

  • Adjust your monitor to increase contrast and make the text larger.
  • Blink frequently. Those staring at a computer screen blink five times less often than normal, which causes dry eyes.
  • Use artificial tears to reduce dryness.
  • Adjust your focus every 20 minutes or so. Look at something far away for 10 seconds, then a nearby object, then the distant object. Repeat 10 times.

Help Employees Protect Their Eyes

You can do a great deal to help workers preserve their vision.

 

  • Make sure employees use protective eyewear while using tools or chemicals.
  • Provide staffers with free fact sheets available from Prevent Blindness America (www.preventblindness.org) and encourage them to have an eye-screening exam.
  • Schedule frequent breaks for computer users. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health notes that eyestrain is reduced when computer workers take four extra five-minute breaks during the workday. Those who do are more productive, despite the extra breaks.
  • Move desk lamps so they don’t reflect on computer screens.
  • Adjust the position of computer monitors. They should be 20 to 26 inches from workers’ eyes.
  • Consider providing employees with computer glasses dispensed by an optometrist. These glasses are designed for focusing on a monitor at arm’s length and can reduce eyestrain. A 2004 University of Alabama study found that computer users who wore glasses with improper correction had significantly reduced performance. The researchers concluded that enhanced productivity from the use of computer glasses more than paid for the cost of the eyewear.

For More Information

Learn more about protecting your vision by visiting these Web sites.

 

The National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health

www.nei.nih.gov

 

EyeSmart, a consumer site sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology

www.geteyesmart.org

 

Eyecare America, sponsored by the public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

www.eyecareamerica.org