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Get the GIST of Eye Health

by Cindy Gray

People experience a number of physical changes as they age. Hair begins to gray, wrinkles line the skin, and vision problems begin.   According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 3.6 million people 40 years of age and older are visually impaired, and more than one million people 40 years of age and older are legally blind.  Fortunately, learning about eye changes and making certain lifestyle choices can help. Use the acronym GIST to keep eyes healthy well into the golden years.Understanding Eye Health and Vision Problems

Genetics

Because some eye problems are genetic, it is important to let your eye doctor know about your family's history of eye health.  Conducting tests for conditions that parents and grandparents may have had helps doctors catch problems early for better treatment.  Specialized equipment helps diagnose conditions before patients even notice symptoms.

Ignoring Changes

Some people attribute weakening vision to normal aging, but vision changes might indicate an eye condition, many of which are easily treated with early diagnosis.  Instead of ignoring vision changes, make an appointment with your eye doctor.

Symptoms

Although eye emergencies don't happen often, it is important to be aware of key symptoms:

Seek immediate medical attention for any of the following:

  • Trauma to the eye

  • Partial or total loss of vision in one or both eyes that comes on suddenly

  • Double vision

  • Distorted vision

  • Sharp eye pain and redness

  • A shade-like sensation across your field of vision

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Schedule a regular appointment with your eye doctor for the following symptoms:

  • Chronic watery or itchy eyes

  • Difficulty distinguishing between colors

  • Difficulty distinguishing objects on the sides of your field of vision

  • Difficulty seeing at night or reading with dim light

  • Blurring of objects, either near or far away

Testing

Although eye exams are important at any age, people who wear corrective lenses should schedule an eye exam each year.  People 50 years of age and older should schedule an annual eye exam with dilation.  With this process, eye doctors use drops to open the iris for a look at the retina in the back of the eye, which helps rule out damage to this area.  People with diabetes are more susceptible to retinal damage, so annual exams are especially important for this group.  Early detection offers better treatment options to prevent or minimize vision loss.

Lifestyle Tips

In addition to the suggestions above, here are more tips to help guarantee good eye health:

  • If you have corrective lenses, limit eye strain, eye fatigue, and possible irritation by wearing your glasses or contacts.

  • Protect eyes from UV rays by wearing sunglasses outdoors, even if it is not sunny.

  • Eat five or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables each day for retina-protecting nutrients.Leafy greens, in particular, help protect against age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness among people in the United States.

  • Don't smoke.Smoking raises risks for AMD, cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment.

  • Keep blood pressure, blood sugars, and cholesterol in check, as problems can affect eye health.

Getting the GIST of good eye health helps catch problems early for better eye maintenance and treatment if needed.  Pay attention to genetics, don't ignore eye changes, be aware of important symptoms, and take advantage of testing to ensure healthy eyes for years to come.

 

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