Keep an Eye on Your Vision

Health, Home & Family
on March 17, 2002

Most Americans make an effort to care for their basic health needs by eating well, exercising, and getting a yearly physical exam. But many people often unknowingly neglect their eye health.

I see patients who have never had an eye exam; they make the mistake of waiting until a problem develops, says Dr. H. Dwight Cavanagh, an ophthalmologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Regular eye exams are a small price to pay for healthy and lifelong vision. Your vision may seem clear, but undetected changes can occur from high blood pressure, diabetes, eye tumors, and retinal disorders. And its a false assumption that only elderly people suffer from eye diseases, Cavanagh explains.

Eyes usually dont hurt when something is amiss, which is why regular eye exams are necessary. A yearly eye exam performed by an ophthalmologist can detect:

Cataracts, which are a clouding of the lens of the eye that leads to blurry vision or total eyesight loss.

Glaucoma, a disease in which pressure inside the eye is too high for the normal functioning of the retina and the optic nerve.

Macular degeneration, which occurs when the part of the retina that distinguishes fine detail deteriorates, causing gradual vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when small blood vessels stop delivering blood to the retina properly, causing distorted eyesight.

Hypertension, which causes a narrowing of the arteries when blood pressure is significantly elevated, leading to a hemorrhage in the retina.

The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends a yearly eye exam for adults. People with risk factors such as diabetes or a family history of eye disease may require more frequent eye examinations.

To help maintain healthy eyes:

Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. Make sure the lenses block both UVA and UVB rays. If in doubt, ask an optometrist.

Eat a well-balanced diet; poor nutrition can lead to an early onset of cataract formation. Lutein, a naturally occurring carotenoid found in many fruits, vegetables, and dietary supplements, can help reduce retinal and macular eye diseases, research indicates.

Avoid smoking. Smokers have twice the risk of nonsmokers for developing macular degeneration, experts say.