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5 Tips to Prevent Cataracts and Macular Degeneration

by Hayley Irvin(more info)

listed in vision and eye sight, originally published in issue 221 - April 2015

 

As we get older, our bodies start to break down due to the natural wear and tear of living an active life. Though signs of ageing first manifest in our skin, hair, knees, and joints, no part of the body is immune to this process. This is especially true for our eyes. Age-related eye conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration (AMD) are two of the world’s leading causes of blindness. According to estimates from the World Health Organization, cataracts are responsible for almost half of all visual impairments worldwide (47.9%), while AMD makes up a much smaller portion (8.7%).

Diagram of Human Eye

Diagram of Human Eye

Photo Credit

Cataracts occur when the eye’s natural lens becomes cloudy and obstructs the passage of light to the retina in the back of the eye. As the lens continues to yellow and harden over time, less light is able to pass through it, leading to vision loss and eventually total blindness. However, with advances in laser eye surgery, it is easier now than it has ever been to restore sight in cataract patients.

Age-related macular degeneration occurs when the retina is damaged over time, leading to vision loss in the macula - the small yellow cluster of cones and cells in the vitreous humor behind the sclera. With its heavy concentration of photoreceptors, the macula is responsible for the detailed central vision needed to perform many daily activities, including reading, writing, driving, and cooking. Unlike cataracts, AMD does not cause total visual impairment. Indeed, central vision is lost but peripheral vision remains intact. Unfortunately, AMD is not treated as easily as cataracts and its effects are not reversible.

Although both conditions are natural by-products of the ageing process, inevitable for many people, there are certain environmental factors that may accelerate the development of cataracts and AMD. Here are five things you can do reduce your risk for developing these and other age-related eye conditions:

1. Eat more Fruits and Veggies

Eating a healthy diet is endlessly beneficial. Not only will you look and feel better, you’ll also be reducing the risk of developing chronic illness later on your life. Fortunately, many of the vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats that are good for our hearts and immune systems are also great for our eyes.

Vitamins A, C, and E, for example, can help prevent oxidative stress that occurs when there is an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body. When the lens is exposed to oxidative stress over long periods of time, cells in the eye become damaged and cataracts begin to form. Vitamins A, C, and E can also help protect against damage to the corneas and blood vessels in the eyes.

Many common fruits and vegetables are great sources of these essential vitamins. Beta-carotene, an orange pigment that our bodies convert into Vitamin A, is found in carrots, squash, red peppers, apricots, and other similarly-colored fruits and veggies. Citrus fruits, especially oranges and grapefruits, are known for their Vitamin C, and Vitamin E is found in almonds, pecans, wheat germ, and other nuts and seeds.

In addition to helping prevent cataracts,research indicates that the regular consumption of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin may also decrease a person's risk of developing AMD. These carotenoids, which are found in higher concentrations in the macula than anywhere else in the human body, protect it from damage caused by UV rays, high-energy blue light, pollution, and smoke. To stock up on lutein and zeaxanthin, start incorporating leafy greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and broccoli into your diet.

2. Stop Smoking

This one is pretty straightforward. As well as increasing the risk of lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, studies have shown that smoking cigarettes more than doubles your chance of developing cataracts and AMD later on in life. The odds of developing these and other age-related eye conditions decrease significantly once you quit smoking, but don’t use this as an excuse to procrastinate. There’s no better day than today to start living a healthier life.

3. Take Care of any other Health Conditions you may Have

Many eye diseases develop as secondary conditions to other health problems. Untreated diabetes, for example, can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal damage. Although anyone can develop these conditions, they occur earlier and progress more rapidly in diabetics.

High blood sugar levels cause the lens to swell and become misshapen and cloudy. This makes it difficult for it to filter light to the retina, resulting in glared or blurry vision. Elevated glucose levels over a long period of time can cause permanent damage to the lens and lead to reduced visual acuity. Cataracts are treatable with surgery and intraocular lenses, but this is not true for many other diabetic eye diseases. Indeed, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of permanent blindness in industrialized countries.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when blood vessels in the eye become damaged due to swelling or abnormal growth. The longer a person’s blood sugar is unmanaged, the more damaged their blood vessels become. Consequently, the longer you have diabetes, the greater your risk for developing retinopathy. Maculopathy, a specific type of diabetic retinopathy, affects the macula and can result in dramatically reduced central vision. Like other forms of retinopathy, its results are not reversible and the only treatment is to slow its progression. For these reasons, it is critically important to maintain a healthy blood sugar level and see your physician regularly.

High blood pressure can also cause irreversible damage to the blood vessels in your eyes. Known as hypertensive retinopathy, this condition worsens over time if steps are not taken to manage high blood pressure. Like diabetic retinopathy, there is no way to reverse its effects and the only way to slow its development is to control your blood pressure.

4. Always Wear Eye Protection

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, more than 2.5 million Americans sustain eye injuries each year. Approximately fifty thousand of these cases result in full or partial vision loss that cannot be reversed. What’s more, the AAO estimates that 90% of all eye injuries could have been prevented by wearing the proper protection.

Many eye injuries happen on the job as a result of chemical exposure, airborne irritants, and improper use of tools, but even more occur at home while cooking, cleaning, or making repairs. Remember to use protective eyewear any time you are working with tools, chemicals, or anything else that could injure your eyes, no matter where you are.  You should also wear eye protection while playing sports, especially high-contact activities like football, rugby, basketball, and boxing. Nearly 15% of all eye injuries are sports-related; among children and adolescents, this is most common cause of eye injuries. If you experience a sudden vision change after an eye injury, see a doctor as soon as possible as it could be a sign of a macular hole or retinal detachment.

In addition to protecting your eyes from physical trauma and airborne irritants, you should also protect them from the sun. Long-term exposure to UVA and UVB rays, high energy blue light, smoke, and smog can accelerate the development of cataracts, so be sure to invest in a pair of sunglasses that cover your entire eye and block harmful ultraviolet rays. In this case, it pays to be both functional and fashionable.

5. Have your Eyes Checked Often

Early detection is a critically important factor when it comes to preventing and treating eye disease. This is especially true for irreversible conditions like macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Thanks to breakthroughs in www.eyecare2020.com/services/laser-eye-surgery/ laser eye surgery, cataracts no longer have to ‘ripen’ to be operable and patients do not have to experience significant vision loss before being able to be treated. The longer you go without treatment, the fewer options you have, so be sure to see your eye doctor regularly in order to detect, monitor, and treat cataracts, AMD, and other degenerative eye diseases.

Getting old is a natural part of life to which no one is immune. For many people, ageing goes hand-in-hand with the loss of physically ability. However, this does not have to be the case, especially when it comes to your vision. Even the littlest things, like choosing broccoli over fries or investing in a nice pair of sunglasses, can help you have a healthier future. Though many conditions cannot be entirely prevented, there are steps you can take to slow their progression.

Follow these eye care tips to protect your eyes against cataracts and AMD for many years to come, and speak with your eye care professional if you notice any changes in your vision. The future looks great with 20/20 vision!

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About Hayley Irvin

Hayley Irvin is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. When she's not creating awesome content for the Marketing Zen Group & EyeCare 20/20, she's writing about basketball, learning about space, and thwarting her cats' plans to take over the world. Catch up with her on Twitter @HayleyNIrvin.

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