The Eyes Have It

Proper eye care and regular vision examinations throughout our lives, starting in childhood, are critical for maintaining good eye health. Whether you’re blessed with perfect eyesight, are one of the millions of Americans wearing corrective lenses, or have had your eyesight improved through surgery, there’s much we should know about our eyes and how they change, need protection and age.

May is Healthy Vision Month. It’s a good time to consider when you last had your eyes examined by a medical professional, and whether or not you’re doing a good job of caring for your eyes and protecting them from injury.

Caring for our eyes is mostly a matter of common sense, especially when it comes to avoiding eye strain or injuries. For starters, always wear approved eye protection or safety glasses on a jobsite or while competing in sports, but also when mowing a lawn or using power equipment. There are so many ways to hit ourselves in the eye, or to be injured by thrown objects, splashed liquids, and even wind-blown contaminants or materials. Hospital emergency rooms treat patients with eyes damaged by all manner of chemicals, fish hooks, baseballs, wood chips and much more. So if you’re doing something that might result in an injury, take the safe and easy step to cover your eyes.

Being aware of the potential damage from ultraviolet light also is important. Sunglasses and clear eyeglasses with protective coatings filter out the sun’s damaging rays, so if you work or spend a lot of time outdoors, you need that extra protection.

Caring for our eyes as we age

Adults should visit with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist at least once every other year, and annually if you have bad eyesight or a family history of glaucoma, cataracts, or other congenital or age-related eye ailments. Many eye maladies develop as we get older, part of the natural aging process. Through a comprehensive eye exam that typically involves dilating the pupils and conducting a number of standard (and painless) tests, eye care professionals not only determine sight deficiencies and illnesses, but also find warning signs pointing to other dangers such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Dry eye syndrome is a common ailment that affects people as we age. If the glands in our eyes stop making enough natural lubricants, we can buy over-the-counter remedies, but it’s best to have our eyes checked for inflammation or infection. Sometimes dry eyes occur from allergies and from living or working in windy, dry, or low-humidity environments, or in buildings with air-blown hot air. Doctors recommend “fake tears,” which don’t have as many chemicals as the “get the red out” eye drops, which can be habit forming. Anti-inflammation medications and vitamins or foods like fish oil which are high in Omega-3 are often recommended.

Glaucoma is a group of illnesses that can lead to blindness if not treated. When fluid builds up inside the eye, pressure and tension can result in damage to the optic nerve, including blindness. Glaucoma has no early warning signs. However, symptoms can include blurriness or clouded vision, sensitivity to light, headaches, reduced peripheral or “side” vision, or “tunnel vision.” It’s more common in adults over 60, in African American adults over 40, or in adults with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma. It’s most often treated through medications and surgery.

Many people also develop cataracts later in life. This clouding of the eye’s lenses becomes more common as we get older and as protein inside our lenses starts to clump together. Cataracts can create a halo effect around lights at night and make our eyes more sensitive to glare, even during daytime. Until the cataract causes severe vision problems, we can increase lighting and change our eyeglass prescription to help see more clearly. Once the haze gets bad, talk to your doctor about surgery to remove the clouded lens and replace it with an artificial one.

Another common age-related eye malady involves “floaters,” which appear as small particles hovering or floating in your eye through your field of vision. These appear when the fluid and vitreous gel inside our eye starts to break down with age.

If you are seeing new floaters all of a sudden, especially if they occur with flashes of light, see your eye doctor. Most of the time, floaters are an annoying, harmless issue. Sometimes, though, they can be a sign of a retinal tear, which can turn into a retinal detachment if you don’t get it treated. Although distracting, floaters are a normal part of getting older, and they won’t harm your vision. But if the floaters suddenly start multiplying and you’re also seeing flashing lights, get to your eye doctor’s office immediately – a retinal tear can cause permanent damage and blindness.

The good news is that through comprehensive, regular eye exams, your doctor can help keep your eyesight corrected, and check for early warning signs of glaucoma, potential retinal detachment and other common eye diseases. As previously mentioned, eye exams also reveal early warning signs of a variety of other illnesses ranging from diabetes to hypertension, so if you haven’t had your baby blues checked out by anyone besides an admiring friend, now’s a good time to call your eye doctor!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!