Don’t forget your eyes

by Pfc. Janae Wright Baumholder Army Health Clinic

It’s a fact of life for adults: aging is just a matter of how, not when. It is common practice for many people to take steps to fight common signs of aging.

Many Americans spend billions of dollars each year to improve the way they look, but far too many forget about the steps they should take to protect how they see.

In a 2012 survey from the American Optometric Association, more than half of the respondents reported they valued their eyesight more than their memory or ability to walk. However, many people may be making little decisions every day that could be compromising your most indispensable sense. It is important to understand how your eyes change with age and what you can do to keep them in the best health possible.

There are many common eye conditions and diseases that adults may experience during different stages of their lives. Some of these changes are normal, age-related developments and others can be signs of a more serious vision-threatening disease or condition.

According to a study done by the National Eye Institute, an estimated 43 million Americans will face vision loss or blindness from age-related eye diseases by 2020. The study identifies age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataract, floaters, flashes and diabetic retinopathy as the most common eye diseases in Americans age 40 and over.

Due to these vision-threatening diseases, the National Eye Institute emphasizes the importance of annual comprehensive eye examinations in preventing or delaying eye disease.

So if you routinely skip your yearly eye exam but want to get a start on taking care of your overall health, it’s easy to turn things around with these expert-recommended tips:

• It’s all about that baseline. Vision changes begin to show up around the age of 40, so receiving a baseline vision exam is recommended, even for those who have never needed corrective lenses. Common age-related eye conditions, including glaucoma and macular degeneration, may not have symptoms at age 40; but if a disease is identified, an optometrist can track it and provide treatment to help prevent it from worsening.

• Watch out for your family history. Age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and other eye diseases can be inherited. If you have a close relative with AMD, you have a 50 percent chance of developing the condition. A family history of glaucoma increases your chances by four to nine times. So, you should inform your eye care professional about your family’s eye health history. This can help them make an earlier diagnosis and save your vision.

• Be on a “see food” diet. Eat for your eyes. Studies have shown that some foods are good for eye health as well as general health. Cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help protect against dry eyes, macular degeneration and even cataracts. Spinach, kale and collard greens, to name just a few, are packed full of lutein and zeaxanthin, important plant pigments that can help stem the development of macular degeneration and cataracts. Broccoli, peas and avocados are also good sources of this powerful antioxidant duo. The vitamins and nutrients in eggs, including lutein and vitamin A which may protect against night blindness and dry eyes, promote eye health and function. Foods such as carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, pumpkin, corn and cantaloupe are excellent sources of vitamins A and C and are thought to help decrease the risk of many eye diseases. So make sure you take a big helping.

• End bad habits, start good ones. Quitting smoking is one of the best investments you can make in your eye health. Smoking increases your risk for developing cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. It also raises the risks for cardiovascular diseases that indirectly influence your eyes’ health.

That’s all it takes to see a better you. Schedule your next eye exam at your optometry clinic.