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Published on June 20, 2018

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Protect Your Sight as You Age

Don’t be too quick to believe the myth that we lose our eyesight as we age. That fable is like some Loch Ness Monster of medical information, but the truth is out there – there are many folks in their 80s and 90s with good sight.

At the same time, macular degeneration remains the leading cause of vision loss, and more than 10 million Americans face it.

“Macular degeneration is a process, and a great way to keep your sight is to schedule regular eye exams. Just like other diseases, early intervention can make a huge difference,” said Avera Medical Group Eye Care optometrist Paul Draayer, OD. “Changes in lifestyle can do great things for your sight, because just like heart health, physical eye and sight health is shaped by diet, activity and habits.”

A Complicated Aparatus

Our amazingly complex eye is made up of a wide range of structures, including the macula, an oval-shaped pigmented area near the center of the retina. The macula gives us the vision needed for detailed activities such as reading and writing, and the ability to appreciate color.

Smoking is a key cultural culprit and can speed up degeneration.

“People who smoke will be three to four times more likely to have an earlier onset of macular degeneration, and in cases where a patient smokes, the degeneration is usually more severe,” Draayer said. “Quitting smoking is going to help your eyes and their health tremendously. Diet is another key consideration.”

Food sources, such as fish and flaxseed with Omega 3 fatty acids, green leafy vegetables that are chockful of lutein and zeaxanthin, such as spinach and kale, should be regular features on your dinner plate if you want to have good vision into your golden years.

Draayer said there are many good cookbooks that focus on eye health, too, including, Eat Right for Your Sight, which has 83 recipes.

Additional Steps That Help

Supplements and vitamin made especially for eye health can help people who are not big fans of the foods mentioned. Draayer said the AREDS II supplement has certain ingredients that are beneficial for macular health and could possibly provide benefits to your eyes. Another good way to keep your “eagle eye” vision as long as possible is to keep current on eye-care checkups.

“Macular degeneration comes in dry or wet forms, and the wet form is more visually disturbing as it signifies new blood vessel growth from underneath the macula, which leads to distortion of vision and increased blurriness,” he said. “However, monitoring regularly can allow your eye doctor to catch the condition earlier, before a dry form turns into a wet form.”

Once this change is detected, there are some significant means to help. Injections can stop and even sometimes reverse the progression of the wet form, but early detection is again the key.

Wearing contacts or glasses is not directly linked to macular degeneration, nor can they provide a fix for a problem that’s linked to the condition. However, if you don’t use sunglasses – get started on that habit. It helps.

“If you can take control of the things you can, like reducing the impact of ultraviolet (UV) rays on your eyes, you can reduce the risk of macular degeneration and its impact on your vision,” Draayer said. “Another issue is with blue light, which has a similar effect on your macular health. People who work on digital devices often are most likely to face this, and with the right lenses, we can reduce the impact of low-wavelength light.”

Timing is crucial, Draayer reminds us. In fact, he can point to a personal story, when his grandmother noticed changes in her vision.

“In her case, we found some hemorrhaging and fluid leakage from underneath the retina, as she had developed wet AMD,” he said. “We were able to start her with some injections, and even though she’s in her 80s, she still has close to 20/20 vision, and that’s because we took action before it was too late.”

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