senior eye vision

4 key eye concerns for seniors


December 6, 2016

Take these steps to preserve eyesight while aging.

 You may have had 20/20 vision in your younger years, but as the decades change, so does your prescription. Nathan E. Podoll, M.D., assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Vanderbilt Eye Institute, shares how to keep your eyes bright and healthy.

1. Get annual eye exams.

The most important part of senior eye care is annual check-ups. According to the National Institute on Aging, these exams should be dilated if you’re over 65. A dilated exam allows your ophthalmologist or optometrist to see the back of the eye to screen for diseases that may not present with early symptoms.

“Annual exams are recommended to screen for diseases like macular degeneration and glaucoma, which are asymptomatic in their early stages,” Podoll says.  “Both of these occur increasingly with age. We also look for skin cancers of the eyelid, dry eyes and cataracts.”

2. Watch for discomfort or general changes.

In addition to getting regular eye exams, seniors should pay special attention to any changes in vision. “If patients are concerned that they are not seeing as well as they are used to, then I am concerned,” Podoll says.

Ocular surface diseases are common in seniors. This umbrella term covers dry eyes, meibomian gland dysfunction, eyelid malposition and many other eye problems that cause both eye discomfort and poor vision. If you’re experiencing eye irritation, burning, watering, redness or intermittent blurry eyesight, don’t hesitate to reach out to your physician to gain relief.

3. Manage diabetes.

Due to the increased rate of diabetes as people age, diabetic retinopathy is a somewhat unique danger to senior eye health. For this reason, senior diabetics should pay particular attention to their eye health and stick to a stringent exam schedule. Mild diabetic retinopathy is typically asymptomatic, but if you’re experiencing changes, call your eye professional ahead of your scheduled exam time.

“If diabetic retinopathy is visually symptomatic, it manifests as blurry or distorted vision,” Podoll explains. Regulating blood sugar can prevent diabetic retinopathy or slow progression.

4. Watch for floaters or flashes.

A retinal tear or detachment requires immediate medical attention to prevent vision loss. Retinal tears can occur at any age but are more common in older people. Symptoms of a retinal tear can include a shower of new floaters or dense black dots or webs in your vision, accompanied with flashes of light like a camera flash. “If this is missed or allowed to proceed,” Podoll says, “a retinal detachment can occur, which will look like a dark veil or curtain covering part of the visual field.”

Are your eyes in need of care? The Vanderbilt Eye Institute assesses and treats a variety of conditions. Call 615-936-2020 for an appointment.

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