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Protecting Your Aging Eyes

It’s no secret that your view of the world can change as you get older—and it’s not just a matter of gaining a wiser perspective: Your vision can change as well, especially if you develop one of the eye diseases associated with aging. That’s why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends, at a minimum, a baseline eye exam in middle age and exams with increasing frequency as you get older, depending on your eye health, as advised by your eye-care specialist.

Even people who are aware of a problem may not see an eye-care specialist as often as they should. Findings from the National Health Interview Survey show that 40 percent of adults with severe visual impairment and 50 percent of those with at least some vision impairment reported that they had not seen an eye-care specialist in the previous 12 months. The survey also found that nearly 50 percent of people over age 65 with no known visual impairments had failed to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist in the previous year.

Getting a regular eye exam might even help protect your brain: An observational study published in JAMA Ophthalmology in 2017 found that older adults with loss of vision may be at higher risk for cognitive decline than those with good eyesight. This suggests that having your eyes examined on a regular basis and treating diseases that can impair your vision, such as cataracts or glaucoma, may also help preserve your mental health. Here are some eye-care tips to protect your health at any age:

  • Wear sunglasses outdoors on sunny days and a hat with a brim. Lifelong exposure to ultraviolet rays promotes cataracts and macular degeneration. Even inexpensive sunglasses block most ultraviolet rays, but for better protection look for specially labeled glasses that state they block 99-100 percent of UV rays. Sunglasses or even goggles are a good idea in the snow, too.
  • Wear goggles or safety glasses when working with power tools or dangerous chemicals that might splash, and when playing racquetball or other high-risk sports. Be wary of flying objects—twigs from a lawnmower, even a champagne cork.
  • Avoid tanning booths and sunlamps, which can cause irreversible damage to your eyes or even blindness.
  • Avoid working in bad light. Reading in bad light will not hurt your vision, but you’ll be less prone to headaches in adequate glare-free lighting—and you’ll work more efficiently and pleasurably.
  • Avoid habitual use of over-the-counter eye drops as a remedy for redness. Artificial tears, to combat dry eyes, can be used whenever needed, but preferably get a preservative-free formulation.
  • If you have prescription eye drops for one condition, don’t use them later for something else. Use prescription eye drops only as directed by a doctor.
  • Smoking endangers your eyes. So if you smoke, this is another reason to quit. Also, stay out of smoky rooms.

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