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Eye Care Through The Ages
A decade-by-decade breakdown on how to ensure your
vision remains healthy as you age


BY GUY FIORITA

Sept. 2017

While most professionals recommend an eye exam every year, 67 million American adults haven’t had an eye exam within the past two, according to The Vision Council’s VisionWatch study.

“Comprehensive eye exams are more than just checking for glasses or contact lenses; your eye doctor is really assessing the total health of your vision system to make sure nothing could cause any loss of vision or compromise your long-term eye health,” says Dr. Christina Petrou of Petrou Eye Care.

For Petrou, preventive care should begin at an early age. “I start my pediatric exams between 6 and 12 months,” she says. “We want to rule out congenital eye problems and also watch for a condition called amblyopia, which is when clear vision in one or both eyes doesn’t properly develop due to a crossed eye or an unusually high prescription. Then, yearly comprehensive exams are recommended after age 3 to monitor the vision system for changes related to growing and learning.”

For children, these annual exams are crucial. “Vision and learning are closely connected: 80 percent of our knowledge up to age 12 is from visual input, and, if you think about it, from the moment we rise until we close our eyes to sleep, we are looking at something,” explains Petrou. “A good lifetime habit for all age groups is 100 percent ultraviolet-filtering sunglasses.”

In adults, eye health is closely associated with overall health, notes The Vision Council. A comprehensive eye exam can provide important clues and early warning signs for high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and brain tumors.

How often you need a checkup is often determined by which eye conditions are present. “Patients with glaucoma or macular degeneration may need to see their eye doctor several times per year,” says Mackenzie Sward, an ophthalmologist with Milwaukee Eye Care Associates. “Patients with diabetes should be seen once a year for a dilated eye exam. A routine eye checkup will involve a vision check; measurement for corrective lenses, (such as) glasses and/or contacts, if needed; measurement of eye pressure; and a dilated eye exam.”

And like any other part of the body, our eyes change with age. What steps should we take to protect and prolong our vision at each decade of life? Here local experts weigh in.
 

30s

“Most of us are lucky enough to still have healthy eyes when we reach our 30s; however, there are important precautions to take to preserve that vision,” says Dr. Brett Rhode, an ophthalmologist with Eye Care Specialists’ ophthalmology practice and the head of ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center. “Ultraviolet rays can lead to the development of cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye, and age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, damage to the retina that causes loss of central vision. Wearing sunglasses from childhood on is one easy way to protect against this damage. (In your 30s,) one of the most important things you can do for your eyes and overall health is to not smoke. Smoking has been linked to cataracts and dry-eye disease and increases the risk and severity of AMD by up to three to four times.”

“The strains of everyday life can also take a toll on how your eyes feel,” adds Dr. Daniel Ferguson, an ophthalmologist with Eye Care Specialists. “If you are at a computer much of the day, you may notice eye fatigue, difficulty focusing and discomfort. Rearranging your workstation, frequently staring aside, blinking more often, and/or getting proper glasses can often relieve these symptoms. Selecting a high-resolution, anti-glare computer screen and adjusting the text size, contrast and brightness settings can also improve readability and visual comfort.”
 

40s

“If you haven’t already, now is a good time to have a baseline dilated eye exam — and every one to two years thereafter — to examine the overall health of your eyes and check for any developing problems, such as AMD and glaucoma, a sight-threatening condition typically related to abnormally high fluid pressure inside the eye,” explains Ferguson.

“A visit to the eye doctor is also essential if you have diabetes — to check for signs of diabetic retinopathy, a complication of high blood sugar levels that damages the blood vessels in the retina and can cause blurring of vision and permanent loss of sight,” Rhode adds. “Keeping blood sugar under control and scheduling regular dilated eye exams with an eye specialist are two of the best means of protection. When treatment is necessary, we have had amazing results with medication injections that can stabilize vision and, in some cases, even improve sight.”
 

50s

“In our 50s, it’s common to see the start of early eye disease, such as cataracts, macular degeneration (and) glaucoma, in people’s eyes and vision system,” Petrou says. “This is an ideal time to discuss how to prevent worsening of conditions, and (it’s) never too late to review preventive techniques for lessening the chances of vision loss. Yearly eye exams are always recommended; sooner or immediate office visits are suggested if any sudden or new problems occur.”
 

60s

“The development of any eye disease obviously increases with age and each decade, but cataracts are first seen in the 60s,” explains optometrist Brian McGinley, owner of Optix on Downer. “Depending on environment and genetics, the age a person gets cataracts can vary greatly. Some will make it to age 80, but most will have cataract surgery in their 70s. Systemic health can also play a factor.”
 

At Every Age

“Because sight-robbing conditions often develop gradually and painlessly, and good vision in one eye can often mask problems in the other, regular comprehensive dilated eye exams are the only way to accurately detect disorders,” Rhode says. “If you notice a problem with your vision — especially straight lines appearing wavy or blind or dark spots, don’t ignore it. Wear sunglasses and hats with brims, have a blood sugar test every three years after age 45 to test for diabetes, and don’t smoke.”


Is screen time to blame?
A closer look at the widespread condition of myopia

Myopia, also known as shortsightedness or nearsightedness, causes people to have difficulty seeing distant objects clearly, and the condition is reaching epidemic proportions. A 2016 study published by the American Academy of Ophthalmology predicted that nearly 50 percent of the world’s population will have myopia by the year 2050, and an additional 9.8 percent will suffer from high myopia, a severe form of myopia.

Dr. Kellye Knueppel, a developmental optometrist with The Vision Therapy Center, says the exact causes of the increase in myopia are unknown. “Recent studies have strongly linked increases in the incidence of myopia with less time spent outdoors,” she explains. “Children who spend a lot of time reading, using a computer, or doing other intense close visual work may be more likely to develop myopia. It has long been felt that the increase in screen time in our society is a contributing factor for developing myopia. In adults, studies that show that the more years you spend in school, the more likely you are to develop myopia. We also see patients regularly who develop myopia after taking jobs that require them to spend the majority of the day looking at a computer.”

How do you know if your child is developing myopia? “The best way to find myopia is through an eye examination,” says Knueppel. “Some symptoms of myopia that a parent might notice would be lack of interest in activities that require faraway seeing, sitting very close to the TV, difficulty copying from the board in school, and squinting.”

And what can parents do to prevent myopia in their children? “Slowing myopia is very important,” says optician Cindy Seemann, owner of Design Vision Optical. “This can be done in several ways, like simply spending more time outside. There is also a procedure called corneal refractive therapy. This is a form of orthokeratology that utilizes a unique rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lens designed to temporarily correct myopia — or nearsightedness — by reshaping your cornea while you sleep. The use of a special type of ‘soft’ bifocal contact lenses and the use of RGP contact lenses can also be effective. Finally, I cannot stress enough the importance of annual or, better yet, biannual eye exams by a certified professional.”
— Guy Fiorita







 


This story ran in the Sept. 2017 issue of: