Age Related Sight Loss

Age Related Sight Loss

Posted on October 29, 2014 by ElderCare Resources in Blog, Education, Vision Loss

Doctors clarify the blur that is age-related sight loss

By John Petrick

It’s one of life’s great ironies. Age may bring the wisdom to help you see things more clearly — but it can still do a real number on your eyes.

Glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, the drying of tear ducts — they can make vision a big blur.

Among Americans older than 40, there are an estimated 41 million cases of blindness, low vision or age-related eye disease, according to the patient advocacy organization Prevent Blindness. The organization predicts this number will grow to 64 million by 2032.

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Blindness is among the public’s top health fears, consistently side-by-side with cancer and paralysis in surveys of health concerns, according to the National Association for Eye and Vision Research, an advocacy organization.

While it is impossible to prevent presbyopia — the fuzzy close-up vision that requires reading glasses — doctors say there are some steps you can take to at least delay, if not soften, the onset of certain eye diseases.

The onset of glaucoma — a condition involving damage to the optic nerve — is almost inevitable as a person ages, but can be very treatable if caught in time. “We call it the silent blinder because it can creep up on you. If you wait until you start losing your vision, it’s too late,” said Dr. Robert Vallar, director of ophthalmology at The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.

It is diagnosed by evaluating the optic nerve and measuring the pressure of the fluid in the eye, as high pressure can harm the optic nerve.

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“It’s something you need to be checked for regularly after age 50, just to make sure that you are maintaining good optic nerve health,” added Dr. Andrew Brown, chief of ophthalmology at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck. “We are quite effective at putting the brakes on glaucoma, through drops and lasers, with no profound vision loss. You can have a somewhat normal-sighted life, which is a wonderful thing.”

By the time they’re 80, more than half of all Americans have cataracts, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. As time passes, the eye’s lens becomes more opaque and dense, eventually causing blurry vision. “This is yet another unavoidable condition as we get older,” Vallar said, adding that wearing sunglasses might somewhat delay the onset of cataracts. In terms of treatment, he says, “Surgery is the only remedy and it is one of the most successful and frequent surgeries performed.”

Macular degeneration — or wear and tear of the retina — is the current leading cause of blindness, according to Vallar. There are two kinds of macular degeneration: dry and wet. More common is the dry, which can cause loss of central vision — essential for reading and driving — but so gradually that many people have it for decades with no obvious effect. Wet, or neovascular, is more dangerous. Abnormal blood vessels grow into the retina, in some cases leading to bleeding or leaking of fluid.

Like the previous two conditions, Valar noted, “You can’t avoid it because it comes with aging.” To help put it off or lessen its impact, one should not smoke and eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, he said. Avoiding the sun and wearing sunglasses might also help. There is also some evidence that taking aspirin regularly may worsen macular degeneration. One should discuss whether or not they should stop taking aspirin in consultation with a doctor, he said.

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“There are some studies that do link macular degeneration to nutrition,” Brown said. “They have found that the use of antioxidants like zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin, promote macular function. All are quite popular in the supplement market.”

Dry eye disease, an extremely common condition that can cause irritation, burning, itching and blurred vision, can also be helped through diet. “We know that Omega 3 fatty acids, whether it’s from fish oil or plant oil, is not a cure but does help the symptoms,” Brown said. A hot wash cloth on the eyelashes on a regular basis can improve dry eyes, he notes. Beyond that, prescription drops and creams are available.