In this second of a YourLifeChoices two-part article on maintaining eye health, we ask Dr Ben Ashby, Head of Optometry at Specsavers, to explain the main eye health challenges as we age. These are the ‘Big Four’, namely: macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and cataracts.
How do these four conditions affect our sight?
Macular degeneration means deposits around the macular (middle) part of the eye. Diabetes causes changes in the blood vessels, which can lead to bleeding or leaking. Glaucoma affects the optic nerve. Cataracts cause cloudy eyes.
What can be done?
Macular degeneration affects one in seven people aged over 50. But the good news is that the progression of vision loss due to macular degeneration can be managed or delayed with early detection.
With diabetes, the challenge is to change your lifestyle and diet. Knowing the effects of diabetes on the eye can be the call to action that is needed. You have the opportunity to make diet and lifestyle changes before it’s too late.
In Australia, 150,000 people with glaucoma are currently undiagnosed. Yet it can take just one eye drop per day to preserve vision, which can’t be restored once lost. So, once again, early detection is critical.
Cataracts will generally require surgery, but people with cataracts can use sunglasses to further protect them from harmful UV.
What is the overall trend in loss of vision?
An ageing population will have more people with eye conditions that need close monitoring. With longer life spans to manage, people now need to get checked earlier. But in 90 per cent of cases, early treatment can ensure the ability to maintain ongoing vision. These facts are not well known, so some 10 million Australians are not getting regular checks, which in some cases could save their vision.
What do we need to know about age-related conditions?
It is normal for the eyes to deteriorate as they age, and this is why you may need glasses for reading now when you didn’t in your earlier years. And if you are a parent with an eye condition, you need to tell your family to get an eye check, as conditions such as glaucoma have a 50 per cent chance of being inherited by the next generation.
Not all vision loss from eye conditions can be restored, so routine eye tests are very important. Some conditions may require surgery – in which case you will need a referral to an ophthalmologist surgeon.
All specialists are required to work within RANZCO (Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) guidelines.
How often should your glasses be checked?
Broadly speaking, every two years. It depends on the condition of your eyes. It may need to be more frequent if you have reading problems. And for patients over 45, you can often pick up general health and/or more serious eye concerns.
Do eye exercises work?
It depends. With younger people for vision training, yes they do. With diseases such as cataracts, diabetes – no, they do not. Nor will eye exercises help with reading vision – you will need glasses for this.
Does diet help?
A normal healthy diet strong on green leafy vegetables, fish and nuts provides important nutrients for your general health. And to bust a myth, no super vision will be achieved by consuming carrots or vitamins alone – these are already present in a well-balanced diet.
In summary, there is no longer a silent thief to steal your sight if you are having regular check-ups. The three main barriers to eye health are cost, accessibility and awareness. Now you know the importance of getting your eyes checked, and that this can be bulk billed, the only question is finding the nearest optometrist. Off you go!
Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.
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