Protect Your Precious Eyesight!


What is one of the most important things you can do to keep your independence as you get older? eye on glaucomaProtect your eyesight!

Protecting your eyesight as you age is essential to Senior health and crucial to aging well. Simple tips include knowing your family’s health history, having regular physical exams, getting your eyes checked every 2 years, and being aware of changes in your vision. Be proactive and eat healthy, exercise more, do not smoke and stay away from second hand smoke, and wear sunglasses when outdoors.

The leading causes of blindness and poor vision are age-related diseases such as macular degeneration, cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes and high blood pressure can cause eye problems if not controlled or treated. See an eye care professional right away if you:

     ~  Suddenly cannot see or everything looks blurry
     ~  See flashes of light
     ~  Have eye pain
     ~  Experience double vision (unrelated to alcohol)
     ~  Have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid

Common eye problems can be easily treated, but often they can be a sign of something more serious. Let your ophthalmologist know if you have:

     ~  Floaters or tiny specks that seem to “float” across your vision. They are a normal part of aging, but could be a sign of a serious eye problem such as retinal detachment. If you see many floaters and/or flashes of light, check with your ophthalmologist immediately.

     ~  Tearing or having too many tears can be an early sign of a serious eye problem like an infection or a blocked tear duct. Both can be treated by an eye care professional.

     ~  Eyelid problems like red and swollen eyelids, itching, tearing, and crusting of eyelashes during sleep may be caused by a condition called blepharitis which is easily treated with warm compresses and gentle eyelid scrubs.

     ~  Dry eye occurs when tear glands don’t work as they should as you get older. Itching, burning, and discomfort are the symptoms. A home humidifier, artificial tears, or ointments are used to treat dry eye.

The eye conditions below can lead to vision loss and blindness. They may have few early symptoms so regular eye exams are your best protection. If the problem is diagnosed early enough, there are often things your eye doctor can do to help you hold onto your eyesight:

     ~  Corneal diseases and conditions can cause redness, watery eyes, pain, problems with vision, or a halo effect around things you see. Both infection and injury can hurt the cornea. Some problems with the cornea are more common in older people. Treatment may be as simple as using eye drops or getting new eyeglasses. In severe cases, surgery may be needed.

     ~  Retinal disorders are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. Retinal disorders that affect aging eyes include:

•  Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD can harm the sharp vision needed to see objects clearly and to do common things like driving and reading. There are treatments for some forms of AMD. In some cases special dietary supplements can keep it from getting worse.       

•  Diabetic retinopathy: This problem may occur if you have diabetes. It develops slowly and often has no early warning signs. If you have diabetes, be sure to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year. Laser surgery can sometimes prevent it from getting worse.

 •  Retinal detachmentTHIS IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. When the retina separates from the back of the eye, it’s called retinal detachment. If you see new floaters or light flashes, or if it seems like a curtain has been pulled over your eye, go to your eye care professional right away. With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can prevent loss of vision.

     ~  Glaucoma often comes from too much fluid pressure inside the eye. If not treated, it can lead to vision loss and blindness.

Did you know that almost 3 million Americans have Glaucoma? The most common forms of the disease primarily affects Seniors and the elderly, and there are no symptoms or pain – but once vision is lost, it’s permanent!

Glaucoma can gradually steal sight without warning. Initial loss of vision is of side or peripheral vision, and the visual acuity or sharpness of vision is maintained until late in the disease. By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease has advanced. Vision loss from glaucoma cannot be reversed either with treatment or surgery.

Understanding the basics of Glaucoma is the first step to protecting your vision. Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.  High-risk groups for glaucoma include people over 60 years of age. Other risk factors include hypertension, use of steroids, smoking, and prior diagnosis of a family member, as well as nearsightedness. Experts say 40% of vision can be lost without a person even noticing, which is why it is so important for Seniors and your elder loved ones to have regular eye exams and tests for Glaucoma, including eye dilation.

Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of this disease for which there is no cure yet, but medication or surgery can slow down or prevent further vision loss. Treatment might include drugs, drops, and/or surgery depending upon the type of Glaucoma as well as other factors.

 ~  Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye’s lens causing blurred or hazy vision. Some cataracts stay small and don’t change your eyesight a lot. Others become large and reduce vision.

Cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Cataracts are common in the elderly and often due to surgery, disease, and injury. People can have an age-related cataract in their 40s and 50s but would never know it because the cataracts are still small and do not yet affect their vision!  Around age 60 most cataracts start to steal sight, and by age 80, more than half of all Americans will either have had a cataract or had cataract surgery.  Although treatment for the removal of a cataract is widely available, often lack of insurance coverage, treatment costs, even lack of awareness prevent many from getting treatment.

eye_surgery_cataractsA cataract begins to form in the lens of the eye when the protein starts to “clump” and then to “cloud” a small spot on the lens. The lens of the eye acts just as a camera lens does so over time as the spot grows larger it reduces the light that reaches the retina, making your vision blurry. Eventually your vision acquires a brownish tint. If you ignore these warning signs and other red flags like seeing double, sensitivity to glare, and poor night vision, then as the condition worsens it will become difficult for you to read, identify colors, and even perform routine daily activities!

Research has shown a connection between cataracts and smoking, alcohol use, prolonged exposure to sunlight and also to certain diseases such as diabetes and glaucoma. Most cataracts grow slowly, and vision changes are gradual, which makes it more important than ever to get screened and to protect your vision by having a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years starting at age 60 and every year if you have diabetes.

Early stage cataracts may be improved with new eyeglasses, better lighting, anti-glare sunglasses, or magnifying lenses. Surgery involves removing the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial lens involving an incision and removal of the damaged lens with suction.  Vision should improve in a few days, but total healing may take about 8 weeks. The operation lasts for about an hour and is almost painless, after which you will be given drops to help with healing and fight infection and probably sent home with an eye patch. You will be instructed not to drive, take plenty of rest and refrain from bending or lifting for a few days. Problems after cataract surgery are rare, but sometimes infection, bleeding, inflammation, loss of vision, and double vision can occur.

     ~  Last but not least let’s look at low vision. Low vision means you cannot fix your eyesight with glasses, contact lenses, medicine, or surgery. Low vision affects many Seniors in these ways:

• Can’t see well enough to do everyday tasks like reading or cooking
• Difficulty recognizing the faces of friends or family
•  Trouble driving and reading street signs
• Lights don’t seem as bright

If you have any of these problems, get tested for low vision. There are tools that can help people with low vision, they include large-print reading materials, magnifying aids, closed-circuit televisions, audio tapes, electronic reading machines, and computers with large print and a talking function. Consider motion lights that turn on when you enter a room, and get telephones, clocks, and watches with large numbers.

Always remember during your eye exam to ask your eye doctor if your vision is okay for safe driving.

With an aging population here in South Florida, we all need to raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to prevent vision loss. In fact, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) now recommends that even adults with no signs or risk factors get a baseline screening for cataracts at 40 years of age. Forty is when early signs of eye disease and changes in vision start to occur. Additional information can be found here: www.preventblindness.org.  More helpful resources are available from the National Eye Institute. Call 301-496-5248 or visit www.nei.nih.gov.

CONTACT US: Regal can assist whether you need help in getting yourself or an elderly family member to the eye doctor, coordinating relevant medications, or providing daily care for those who are vision impaired and concierge conveyance for those who can’t drive. Should surgery for cataracts be required, Regal has a physician partnering program called “Quick-Start” Your Recovery® that might be of interest. Our skilled professionals will bring you home and get you settled in after the surgical procedure. We’ll review the post-discharge protocols, explain the doctor’s orders, arrange for any drops or pain medications you need, be sure you have food in the fridge and prepare a meal, then assist with a bath before settling you in for the rest of the day or night. Overnight requests can be accommodated as well. For more information, please contact Ferial Andre, RN, CCM, CDP, at 561-499-8382 or ferialandre@regalcares.com.

This article is not intended as medical advice.