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Protect Your Vision with Annual Screenings

eye doctor examines patient

Reduced vision can be a natural part of the aging process, but regular eye exams can prevent many age-related eye problems. In many cases, checkups detect serious eye conditions like glaucoma and macular degeneration that can lead to blindness if they are not treated.

“As we age, we are more likely to develop a wide range of conditions that can damage our eyesight,” says ADC ophthalmologist Thomas Chandler, M.D. “One of the most common is glaucoma. Many people with glaucoma don’t realize they have the disease until they’ve already lost some vision,” adds Dr. Chandler. “Damage to the optic nerve occurs slowly and painlessly, so the first sign may be blind spots that appear in the peripheral vision and move into the central field of vision. By that time, vision is permanently impaired.”

Who should be screened?

Healthy adults over 60 should be screened for glaucoma every one to two years. More frequent screenings may be recommended for people with risk factors such as African ancestry, family history of glaucoma (especially siblings), or increased pressure within the eye. Screenings include a complete evaluation of all risk factors and an examination of the visual field to determine whether damage has occurred to the optic nerve.

While most forms of glaucoma are painless, angle-closure glaucoma causes noticeable symptoms such as blurred vision, severe eye pain, headache, haloes around lights, and nausea and/or vomiting. These symptoms should be reported to your physician at once.

Treatment options

Several treatments are available when glaucoma is detected early. Medication, laser therapy, and surgery may be used to lower pressure in the eye and limit damage to the optic nerve. However, there is no treatment to restore vision lost because of optic nerve damage.

Complications for patients with diabetes

Another common eye problem for seniors is diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy, the most common cause of new blindness in adults, is most common in people with untreated diabetes. It also becomes more likely the longer a person has diabetes.

“Many people with diabetes don’t realize the importance of seeing an ophthalmologist in addition to their regular physician,” says Dr. Chandler. “All diabetics should have a yearly dilated retinal exam to screen for diabetic eye complications. The importance of early detection and treatment in preventing blindness caused by diabetes can not be overemphasized.”

Additional age-related eye problems

Cataracts and macular degeneration are also age-related eye problems. Cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s lens, can be removed with a simple outpatient surgical procedure. Macular degeneration is an incurable disease that causes loss of vision from the center out, with peripheral vision usually remaining intact. With proper treatment and low-vision devices, patients can continue most activities.

“Regular eye exams are the key to saving vision,” says Dr. Chandler. “If you haven’t had a checkup in two years, take advantage of this opportunity to schedule an appointment now.”