It is normal for our eyes to change as we get older, but we can limit the impact of those changes with proper care and maintenance. Regular eye appointments are vital, but it’s also important to make sure you’re taking care of your eyes in between appointments, in your daily life. At the top of any daily care, a routine should be eating or taking the right nutrients. Likewise, there needs to be more education about age-related eye conditions. We must be aware of the most common eye conditions that affect the aging population to better combat them.
Some of the leading age-related eye conditions to be aware of:
With normal aging, the lens in the eye that focuses light can become cloudy. When the lens turns cloudy, this is called a cataract. Most cataracts are simply a natural side effect of aging, but can sometimes be caused by injury or other chronic medical conditions. To treat cataracts, the clouded lens is surgically removed. According to the Mayo Clinic, ultraviolet light from the sun may contribute to the development of cataracts, so it is essential always to wear sun protection. Also, excessive alcohol use may increase the risk of cataracts.
Vitamins that contain antioxidants and phytochemicals found in produce may help reduce the risk of contracting cataracts. Helpful vitamins include Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Lutein is found only in plants, mostly in green leafy varietals like kale, spinach, carrots, mustard greens, etc. When consumed, zeaxanthin helps form a yellow pigment that can partially shield the eyes from strong light sources, including the sun. Zeaxanthin can be found naturally in orange bell peppers, corn, broccoli, spinach, turnip greens, kale, and even some spicy peppers. Also, a diet high in fish or fish-oil supplements has been linked to reducing cataracts’ risk. It is becoming more apparent that spicy peppers don’t merely taste good but that capsaicin (the active ingredient) has pharmacological properties.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration:
Unfortunately, some older adults will suffer vision loss beyond only the regular changes that come with age. Age-Related Macular Degeneration is a disease that affects the macula. The macula is the center of the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye and causes vision loss from the center outward. Peripheral vision remains mostly unchanged, but many activities require an excellent central vision. Activities like driving, watching TV, reading, and even seeing faces all make use of the macula. For more detailed information, click here.
There are two NEI (National Eye Institution) studies showing that people suffering from Age-Related Macular Degeneration can benefit from taking individual vitamin supplements. People who have intermediate macular degeneration in both eyes or late-stage macular degeneration in only one eye found that taking certain supplements slowed the disease’s advance. The vitamins used in the studies were vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, copper, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc. During the NEI-funded Age-Related Eye Diseases Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), researchers created supplements that contain all of the ingredients mentioned above. These vitamins and minerals can be found in food as well. Those with a higher risk of contracting macular degeneration should increase the consumption of dark leafy greens, carrots, avocados, fish, or fish oil and reduce carbohydrates. We have all heard that carrots help the eyes, and it is absolutely true; it’s not just an old wives’ tale. Nothing cures or entirely prevents macular degeneration, but smoking, obesity, genetics, and history of cardiovascular disease are all risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of contracting Age-Related Macular Degeneration. Also, keeping blood pressure under control has been found to slow the progress of macular degeneration.
Diabetic Eye Disease is also known as Diabetic Retinopathy:
Many older adults suffer from diabetes, and some populations are more at risk than others – follow the link to see how has a higher risk factor. As we age, the risk of developing diabetes increases. Because diabetes affects blood vessels, people with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can be affected by diabetic retinopathy. Since the retina has a blood vessel layer, diabetes can make these blood vessels leak, building up the eye’s fluid. This can eventually blur vision. Some signs include dark spots, hazy vision, extreme vision changes, floaters, spotters, color loss, and/or loss of vision at night.
Fortunately, people with diabetes can delay and sometimes prevent diabetic retinopathy using a holistic, natural approach. In cases where diabetic eye disease has already begun, there are also natural ways to manage the symptoms and keep them from progressing. Protecting your vision requires a long term effort since many times, diabetes is a life long condition. Like most issues with the eyes, prevention tips include keeping blood pressure and cholesterol low, quitting smoking, increase folic acid, and vitamin B12. Also, ask your doctor about fenugreek seed and gingko biloba if you are interested in staying in the natural remedy lane. The best way for someone with diabetes to take care of their eyes is to follow a doctor’s advice on diet, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, exercise, and regular eye examinations.
Glaucoma is when too much pressure builds up in the eye and damages the cells that make up the lens. There are two types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and shut-angle glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type, and essentially, it prevents eye fluid called aqueous humor from draining out the front of the eye, causing a pressure buildup. With shut-angle glaucoma, the disease prevents fluid drainage from both the back and the front of the eye, usually resulting in iris damage and creating even more pressure. In open-angle glaucoma, the iris is in the right-hand position, and one source of drainage is exact, but the eye is still not draining properly. In closed-angle glaucoma, the iris is pressed against the cornea, blocking all drainage forms – namely the trabecular meshwork and the uveoscleral drains.
Glaucoma is slowly advancing, usually painless, and causes no noticeable symptoms for a long time. Since the nerves are damaged only a few at a time, it requires a doctor for early detection. Vision loss due to glaucoma is permanent, so early detection is vital. By receiving initial treatment, vision loss from glaucoma can be significantly reduced. Unlike other eye conditions where risk increases with high blood pressure, glaucoma risk is also increased by low blood pressure. Other risk factors include being age 75 or older, genetics, topical steroids, overall inflammation, tumor, high ocular hypertension, and sometimes even simple nearsightedness.
According to the NIH, temporal arteritis, also known as giant cell arteritis, is the most common vasculitis in the elderly population. There 15-30 cases per 100,000 people in North America, making it relatively rare, but familiar enough that people should be aware of what it is. Vasculitis means an inflammation of the blood vessels, and in this case, the blood vessels near a person’s temples. Sometimes, the temporal arteritis can affect the posterior ciliary arteries, which can lead to blindness. When left untreated, temporal arteritis can damage eyesight, cause an aneurysm, and sometimes lead to stroke.
The most common symptoms associated with temporal arteritis are soreness around the temples or scalp, jaw pain, fatigue, fever, muscle aches in the shoulders, weight loss, and vision problems that aren’t caused by anything else. Researchers are still not 100% sure what causes temporal arteritis, but it is common in people who suffer from polymyalgia rheumatica.
For people with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), many people find that altering and/or changing their diet has positive effects. Since PMR is chronic, long term life changes like a diet are sometimes necessary. PMR is an inflammatory condition, and when left untreated, it can lead to the dangers mentioned above. Following a low fat and low land animal protein diet can lessen the risk of giant cell arteritis. Diet, of course, must be coupled with exercise, but foods to avoid include sugary beverages, alcohol, meat, fake butter, and any other high fat / low nutrient food. Foods to incorporate into a diet to prevent temporal arteritis are salmon, tuna, sardines, soybeans, avocados, okra, and even egg yolk.
It’s important to consider that everyone’s body is different, so what works for one person may not work for another when reducing inflammation. Working with a dietician or other health professional could be extremely beneficial if you or someone you know suffers from PMR and would like to prevent temporal arteritis.
Need for More Light, but Less Blue Light:
Sometimes with aging eyes, vision impairment comes down to something as simple as needing more light in your house. It’s common to need more light to see during activities like reading and writing. Many people don’t even consider this when they go to the eye doctor. For older seniors, it’s essential to keep the house well-lit to prevent falls. Along with more light, older eyes also need to take more frequent breaks from working on the computer or watching TV. Using devices that emit blue light before bed can cause insomnia and make seeing things that aren’t emitting blue light more difficult. The blue light-emitting devices include TVs, phones, tablets, fluorescent light, compact fluorescent light bulbs, and anything with an LED screen.
Some blue light is necessary for small doses – it is naturally emitted from the sun. Studies have found that the amount of blue light modern humans are consuming can prematurely age the eyes. Not only does it strain the eyes, but it can cause retina damage at the cellular level, which could, in turn, lead to a higher risk for macular degeneration. Try to decrease exposure to blue light by setting aside a certain amount of time each night that is device free. Some people also report having less eye strain after wearing anti-reflective, yellow-tinted glasses to reduce and block blue light.
Practicing proactive eye care can help reduce the advancement of many of the eye changes that come with age. Regular eye exams, protective eyewear for the sun, limiting blue light exposure, and keeping prescriptions up-to-date are the easiest ways to keep your eyes healthy for a long time to come. Also, exercise is an often overlooked but easy way to take action.
Since many of the above conditions are brought on by high blood pressure, practice is the best natural prevention for hypertension. Likewise, exercise improves and strengthens blood flow, so it enhances the quality of vision. Lastly, tweaking your diet and adding some of the foods or vitamins mentioned above can vastly improve your eye health. Eating a diet rich in Vitamin A and beta-carotene can help reduce your risk for most eye conditions, including macular degeneration.