Professor Phelps on eye health
Losing your vision as you get older is not inevitable. Any sudden loss of vision is a medical emergency and needs to be investigated urgently, but there are many other, more subtle forms of gradual vision loss that deserve your attention.
A sure sign of getting older is that you wish your arms were longer so you could focus on the fine print. This condition, called presbyopia, is caused by loss of flexibility of the lens in your eye, affecting your ability to focus on objects close to you. The usual way of dealing with this is to wear prescription glasses for reading and close work, but there are some surgical procedures, such as replacement of the lens with an artificial multifocal lens.
Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD)
You may experience blurred or distorted central vision, difficulty reading or driving, or reduction in colour perception. A combined supplement containing zinc, copper, vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin may be prescribed.
ARMD is described medically as “wet” or “dry” type. Wet ARMD can be treated with injections of Lucentis directly into the eye, or laser procedures to prevent progression of the disease.
There are a number of other age-related eye conditions which can cause your vision to decline. Some of these are treatable, so don’t just accept that it is an inevitable part of ageing.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. It is a condition that leads to increased fluid pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve. Risk increases if you have a family history. One in eight people will develop glaucoma, but many of those do not know they have it, so regular testing is essential as you get older. Glaucoma can be controlled with eye drops and may need laser surgery.
Cataracts are opaque areas in the lens of your eye. The risk increases if you smoke, you have diabetes or take cortisone medication in the long term. Lenses affected by cataracts can be removed and replaced with artificial lenses.
Diabetic retinopathy is the damage caused to the retina by poorly managed diabetes. People with diabetes should, therefore, have a regular eye examination. Careful management of diabetes with monitoring of blood sugar levels and eye health, diet, exercise and prescribed medication is important in the prevention of vision loss.
Dry eye syndrome
As you get older, your eyes can produce fewer tears. It’s particularly common in women after menopause. It may be a side-effect of some medications. Dry eye syndrome causes a tired, scratchy, stinging or irritated feeling. It can also result in intermittent blurring of vision. It’s not possible to “cure” this condition, but it can be managed with drops or gels to replace tear production.
“Have eye checks regularly as part of your general health checks.”
Know your eyes Your eyes are a complex organ, made up of different parts.