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Helping You Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

They say 40 is the new 30, but when it comes to your eyes 40 is still the age when you can expect your vision to start changing, and continue changing with each passing year.

Not surprisingly, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that once the clock strikes 40, you should schedule a baseline eye screening (and one at least every two years after that)—even if you’ve never worn glasses or contact lenses before and have no family history of eye problems.

Don’t think of it as getting older, says Doctor Derek O’Donnell of Scott & Christie Eyecare Associates, think of it as getting smarter.

Regular eye exams can detect, and consequently slow down, the progression of sight-threatening conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration as well as alert you to potential health issues like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels and diabetes.

In addition, eye exams can promote a greater sense of freedom. When your peripheral and nighttime vision, not to mention your near and far vision, are not what they used to be, chances are your sense of balance and depth perception are also being compromised.

“A lot of common eye problems can contribute to people as young as 55 or 60 feeling less confident and comfortable in their everyday lives,” Doctor O’Donnell says. “And that can lead to a loss of independence, a greater sense of isolation and even depression.”

So, as those birthdays start to add up, here’s what your eyecare professional will be on the lookout for:

  • Presbyopia (aka “aging eye”)
    No, your arms aren’t getting shorter, but your eyes are definitely losing their flexibility, making those up-close tasks more and more challenging.
  • Dry Eye
    “Tear dysfunction,” as Dr. O’Donnell refers to it, can be exacerbated by drooping eyelids, the inability to completely close your eyes, excessive heat and some medications. Less tear production means more eye strain, irritation and blurry vision.
  • Floaters & Flashes
    As the intraocular fluid that fills the inside of your eye dissipates you may start to see tiny bits of gel or cells “floating” in your field of vision. This fluid can also pull away from the back wall of your eye causing you to see flashes of light. Usually, floaters and flashes are just a fact of 40+ life, but in some cases they can signal a detached retina.
  • Cataracts
    No one escapes cataracts and the symptoms—cloudy or blurred vision, sensitivity to light and glare and the yellowing and fading of colors—associated with them. But the good news, Doctor O’Donnell asserts, “is that there are now cutting-edge treatment options available, like multifocal and laser cataract surgery.”
  • Glaucoma
    Age is a definite factor in developing glaucoma. This disease attacks the optic nerves, resulting in a loss of peripheral vision and ultimately a complete loss of sight. Once the damage is done, it cannot be reversed. But because there are no symptoms in its early stages (when its progress can be slowed), the only sure way to detect glaucoma is through a thorough eye exam.
  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
    The leading cause of blindness in Americans over 65 is AMD. However, regular visits (starting at age 40) to your ophthalmologist will get you on the right treatment path.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy
    Older people with diabetes are most at risk for this disease that can rob you of your sight. Sharing your medical history with your eyecare professional will ensure that your annual vision checkup includes a diabetic retinopathy screening.

With each new birthday, screenings become an increasingly important part of taking care of your eyes. But Doctor O’Donnell offers this friendly advice as well: stop smoking and start eating right.

It’s not surprising that a lifestyle that excludes tobacco products while embracing a diet rich in vitamins C and E, nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids will benefit your entire body. However, the links to improved eye health are plain to see.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking increases the likelihood of developing dry eye and certain types of macular degeneration. Conversely, eating leafy green vegetables, carrots and sweet potatoes, strawberries and oranges and salmon and other cold-water fish can help reduce those odds.

Also on the must-do list: wearing 100-percent UV protective sunglasses when outdoors and safety glasses when playing sports or working on certain home repair and gardening projects.

“Nowadays, people in their 50s and 60s are active and working,” Doctor O’Donnell says. “We just want to make sure they’re able to continue that healthy lifestyle for as long as possible. And that means taking good care of your eyes.”

www.scottandchristie.com, 724-772-5420 – Cranberry, 412-782-0400 – Fox Chapel

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