A Look Ahead

As we grow older, almost all of us notice some changes in our vision. It’s harder to read menus, especially in candlelit restaurants. We tuck reading glasses into our purses or keep them scattered about the house so there’s always a pair on hand.

But some vision changes can be serious and require the attention of an eye doctor. Here are conditions to watch for, and what to do if they occur.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common eye condition that affects the macula, the most sensitive part of the retina, located at the back of the eye. During the early stages of AMD, there may be no symptoms at all, but as it progresses a blurry area or blank spots near the center of vision will develop. Roughly 6.5 percent of American adults develop AMD, which is most common in Caucasians over the age of 40. It is the leading cause of vision loss among people aged 50 and older.

While it does not cause complete blindness, the loss of vision can make life difficult and, currently, there is no treatment. However, the National Eye Institute (NEI) reports that if detected early enough, taking high-dose vitamins and minerals on a daily basis can slow progression of the disease. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider before taking supplements, however, to ensure you are taking the same doses and combinations used in the NEI trials.

Research also suggests that the risk of AMD may be reduced through lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels and eating a diet rich in leafy, green vegetables and fish — many of the foods that also help to keep you healthy overall.

Diabetes and Vision
Most people with diabetes will develop only minor vision problems, but some diabetes-related vision complications can and do cause blindness.

Diabetic retinopathy, caused by changes in the blood vessels in the retina, is the most common type of eye disease that affects people with diabetes. There are two kinds: nonproliferative (the most common, in which capillaries in the back of the eye balloon), and proliferative, a less common but more serious condition which can lead to blindness.

People with diabetes are also 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts than those who do not have diabetes.

Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds in the eye and can lead to gradual loss of vision. Cataracts occur when the lenses of the eye become clouded.

The longer people have diabetes, the more likely they are to develop vision problems, so be sure to see an eye doctor regularly for the best hope of early detection and treatment.

Medications and Vision

Sometimes the medications we take can also affect our vision. Antihistamines, steroids, erectile dysfunction and prostate drugs, for example, can all cause side affects that damage our vision. If you are taking medication and notice changes to your vision, be sure to tell your healthcare provider.