Eyesight is critically important to everyone, and it’s a special concern for people 50-plus as they age.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, a South Florida opthamologist, reached out to AARP Florida to share six tips to help you prevent ocular disease as you grow older. Coupled with earlier diagnosing of eye diseases, these tips might save your sight and sometimes your life:
- Schedule an annual comprehensive exam: Having an annual comprehensive eye exam, including an optical coherence tomography (OCT) can be instrumental in the very early detection of drusen, a potential precursor to macular degeneration, or even macular degeneration itself, the number one cause of blindness in Americans 50 and older. It can also detect glaucoma, also known as a "sneak thief" because vision is gradually, permanently being lost, without any symptoms. Melanoma as well as other intraocular cancers are often detected by dilating your eyes. An annual comprehensive eye examination, complete with diagnostic testing such as the OCT and dilation can save your eyesight, and at times, save your life.
- Stop smoking: Smoking greatly increases the prevalence and severity of almost every eye disease that can permanently reduce vision or even precipitate blindness. Many ophthalmologists strongly believe the incidence of macular degeneration and diabetic eye disease is 10 times greater for someone who smokes. If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, thyroid eye disease, rheumatologic disease, sickle cell anemia, and other systemic diseases, the incidence of eye complications rises considerably with smoking. The only way to lower the risk is to stop smoking.
- Ask your primary care physician for a prescription for the Shingles vaccine: Shingles develops in one out of three adult Americans. In more than 30 percent of those afflicted with Shingles, there is ocular involvement, which can range from moderate to severe to devastating. The new vaccine, Shingrix, has a 90 percent success rate; for this reason, The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have independently recommended that everyone age 50 and older should receive the Shingrix vaccine, unless they are immunocompromised. This vaccine can save your eyesight as well as potentially prevent the dreaded post-herpetic neuralgia, aka the ongoing burning pain that occurs in 20 percent of shingles patients.
- Avoid blue light: Known as High Energy Visible or HEV Light, blue light is emitted from your laptop, computer, smartphones as well as fluorescent bulbs. This exposure is cumulative over your life and is one of the major risk factors contributing to frequency and severity of Macular Degeneration, the nation’s leading cause of severe vision loss. Blue light also causes Digital Eye Strain (DES), characterized by eye fatigue, blurred vision, red and or dry eyes, eye discomfort and decreased productivity. While avoiding emission of blue light from the sun and digital devices is not feasible, there is a new wave of new eye glass lenses which dramatically minimize or eliminates DES. The blue blocker must be built within the lens to protect your eyes from harmful light, while allowing beneficial light to come through. We also highly recommend holding your digital device as far away from your face as possible to minimize any short or long term effects.
- Wear sunglasses with U-400 blocker and polarization: The connection between Ultraviolet Light (UV) and skin cancer is well known. But less well known but equally as important is how UV can cause of all kinds of eyelid cancers, growths and diseases. The best preventative measure is to wear sunglasses, which are polarized and have a UV-400 blocker on the front and the back, any time you are outside. This sunglass protection greatly reduces the incidence and severity of possible damage.
- Include vitamins in your daily diet: There are six key active ingredients which you can incorporate into your diet to protect your eyes from oxidative damage and improve your visual function including: Copper, Lutein, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zeaxanthin and Zinc. We also recommend increasing your consumption of alpha omega-3 fatty acids. An alternative to the diet route is to take an AREDS 2 Vitamin supplement such Ocuvite 50+ or Preservision.
It would be nice if our eyes came with a lifetime guarantee. But by scheduling an annual exam, giving up smoking, avoiding blue light, obtaining the Shingrix Vaccine, wearing sunglasses and including vitamins in your diet, you will definitely be stacking the odds in your favor. Now that’s a gamble worth taking.
Dr. Alan Mendelsohn is a South Florida ophthalmologist based in Hollywood, Fla. Dr. Mendelsohn has provided this information as a public service.
Please note: This is not an endorsement of services.