Health & Spirit

Nutrition News: Eye Health

Charlyn Fargo on

Eye Health

Have you noticed that you're reaching for your reader glasses more often, and it just seems like you just can't see as well as you used to?

Unfortunately, it's part of the aging process. But we can take steps, including healthy food choices, that can help protect vision and reduce the risk of serious eye disease in the future. Currently, vision impairment and blindness are among the top five causes of disability in older adults, according to the National Institute for Health.

The clear, curved lens at the front of our eye may be one of the first parts of our body to show signs of age. The lens bends to focus light and form images on the retina at the back of our eye. The flexibility allows us to see at different distances -- up close or far away -- but the lens hardens with age. The change starts slowly. Eventually, the age-related stiffening and clouding affects nearly everyone.

"You might find you're holding your book farther away to read it. You might even start thinking your arms just aren't long enough," says Emily Chew, clinical researcher with the NIH National Eye Institute. "A good and simple treatment is reading glasses."

Cataracts -- cloudy areas in the lens -- are another common eye problem that comes with age. By age 75, more than half of Americans will have had them. Some are small and have little effect on eyesight, but others become large and interfere with vision. Symptoms include blurriness, difficulty seeing well at night, lights that seem too bright and faded color vision. There are no specific steps to prevent them, according to the NIH, but tobacco use and exposure to sunlight raise the risk of developing them. The good news is that surgery can restore good vision.

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Our natural aging process can also weaken the muscles that control the size of our pupil. It becomes smaller and less responsive to light. People in their 60s need three times more light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s, and smaller pupils make it more difficult to see at night.

The NIH says that more serious age-related eye diseases, such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease, may have no warning signs or symptoms in the early states, so a regular eye exam is recommended.

"Glaucoma can slowly steal your peripheral vision. You may not notice it until it's advance," says Chew, adding it can be treated with prescription eye drops, lasers or surgery. However, if not treated, it can lead to vision loss and blindness.

AMD, the leading cause of blindness in Americans over age 65, causes gradual loss of vision in the center of the eye.


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