On my 40th birthday, a good friend gave me three “gag” gifts: adult diapers, a blanket with armholes (for my impending couch potato years, I assumed) and reading glasses. We all had a good laugh.
However, I was no longer laughing a few days later when I found I needed those very glasses to read the menu in a dimly lit restaurant. Could the simple passing of another year truly have affected my eyesight so drastically?
In search of answers, I turned to Dr. Jennifer Tam, an optometrist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. She answered a few key questions to help me see why those readers — along with the dozen other pairs strategically placed throughout my home — became a necessity.
Why does our eyesight change as we age?
It’s part nature and part nurture, so a combination of our genetics and our environment play a role in how our vision changes. If mom and dad were nearsighted, for example — meaning objects become more blurry the farther away they are — then there is a risk factor that we may follow in their path.
Normal aging processes can also cause changes. The lenses in our eyes gradually harden over time and negatively affect our ability to focus well on reading or when focused on other close-in activities. This is the “long-arm syndrome,” known as presbyopia, which affects us when we reach our 40s and 50s.
Digital display devices such as phones, tablets, TVs and computers have been at the forefront of scrutiny because increased screen time can cause visual strain, and may lead to vision and eyesight changes to compensate for the strain. Eye diseases and trauma can also change the structure of the eye and cause vision reduction or vision loss, such as macular degeneration, cataracts, corneal disorders or dystrophies, and glaucoma. Health conditions, such as diabetes, can also cause vision and eyesight changes.
Is there anything we can do to slow the decline of our eyesight?
Frequent breaks during visually straining activities, such as computer use, can help. You can also protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun by wearing sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats.
We must make sure our overall health is the best it can be and maintain control of health conditions that we might have, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension. Those who smoke should stop and we all should aim for a healthy lifestyle that involves exercise and a good diet filled with antioxidants, green leafy vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids.
What treatments can help our aging eyes?
There are multifocal glasses and contact lenses that may be able to give a person with presbyopia the ability to see clearly at a distance and near. Cataract surgery is a common treatment to address when the eye lens hardens and becomes hazy over time, and interferes with clear vision. For macular degeneration and other inflammatory processes in our eyes, intravitreal injections are injected into the eye to prevent further progression of the condition.
Dr. Tam recommends that if you have relatively stable, healthy eyes and vision, you should see the optometrist every one or two years. Some people may need to be seen more often, depending on their eye or health condition.