You’ve heard the expression, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Your eyesight is at the top of the list.
Fortunately, most young adults have healthy vision, despite common issues like eye-related stress.
Past age 40, though, changes in eyesight are common, and past age 60 External Site, vision can change significantly. The good news is there are simple things you can do to protect your vision as you age.
Here are five eye conditions to be on the lookout for, and when you should reach out for help. If problems do arise, be sure to seek help from your personal doctor or an eye care professional as soon as possible.
One of the most common eye problems is dry eye. It happens when your eye doesn’t produce enough tears, or the tears produced aren’t able to lubricate the eye. When this happens, the eye can become inflamed or damaged, causing a burning or stinging feeling.
Dry eye is more common with age, and can be caused by certain medical conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, or as a side effect of taking certain medications, including antihistamines like Claritin® or Zyrtec®. Dry eye is often caused by dry air or poor air quality. Spending time in air-conditioned or heated environments where there is little humidity, such as an airplane, is a common cause of dry eye. Here are a few symptoms:
- A feeling that something is in your eye
- Red eyes, or a scratchy, burning or stinging sensation in the eyes
- A gritty mucus in and around the eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
- Eye fatigue or blurred vision
The most common treatment for dry eye is artificial tear drops or ointments, which you can find over-the-counter at most pharmacies. If the problem doesn’t go away, your doctor or an eye care professional can recommend medication or treatments to help your eyes produce more tears.
As we age, protein builds up in the lens of the eye, creating a cloudy film that keeps light from passing through clearly. At first, cataracts may not be a problem, but as they get worse, you may find it difficult to see clearly. Here are a few symptoms:
- Cloudy, blurry or foggy vision
- Problems seeing at night, for example, from the glare of oncoming headlights
- Sensitivity to light and glare during the day
- Changes in the way you see color
- An inability to see things close up, or trouble with eyeglasses or contact lenses not working well
An optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect cataracts during your regular vision exams. Cataracts are treated with surgery, but you may not need surgery until vision troubles start to get in the way of your daily routines. If you notice changes in your vision, be sure to visit your eye care professional for testing.
Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of fluid in the front part of the eye, gradually damaging the optic nerve. It’s a common eye disease in people over age 40, and a leading cause of blindness in people over age 60. In its early stages, glaucoma may have no symptoms. If symptoms do develop, it may be too late. That’s why it’s important to schedule regular eye exams and see an eye professional quickly if symptoms do occur. Symptoms include:
- Loss of peripheral (side) vision
- Seeing halos around lights
- Tunnel vision
- Eye pain or redness
- Upset stomach or vomiting
Glaucoma is more common in people with a family history of the disease. If you have a family history, be sure to schedule regular eye exams. Treatment includes eye drops, oral medications and laser surgery.
Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans — more than cataracts and glaucoma combined. It happens when the center part of the retina, known as the macula, breaks down. This causes blind spots in your vision, making it hard to read, drive, watch television or even recognize faces. As with many eye diseases, most people do not have early signs of a problem. As the disease gets worse, however, you’ll notice changes in vision, such as:
- Shadowy areas in your vision
- Blurry vision
- Wavy or distorted words when reading
- Difficulty seeing details
- Sensitivity to glare
- Difficulty recognizing faces
- Visual hallucinations, or seeing things that aren’t there
As with glaucoma, family history also plays a role in macular degeneration. Smoking doubles the risk. Annual eye exams are the most effective way to detect the disease. There’s no cure, but treatment, including injections or surgery, may slow the disease and prevent complete loss of vision.
For people with diabetes, retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss. That’s because high blood sugar damages the retina and may cause it to detach. You might not have any signs of diabetic retinopathy until it becomes serious. That’s why it’s so important to have regular eye exams and to see an eye doctor when symptoms occur, like:
- Floaters, or spots that drift through your field of vision
- Blurry vision, or vision that changes from blurry to clear
- Inability to see colors, or colors that seem washed out
- Loss of central vision (used when reading or driving)
- Holes or black spots in your vision
Almost half of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of retinopathy. Because the early stages of the disease are so hard to spot, it’s important to do all you can to control your blood sugar and blood pressure, and see an eye care professional at least once a year for a complete eye exam.
Keep up with regular eye exams
The American Optometric Association recommends that adults aged 19 to 40 receive an eye exam at least every two years. If you are at risk for eye problems due to a family history of eye disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or past vision problems, an eye care professional may recommend more frequent exams.
Depending on your health plan, you may have coverage for an annual eye exam through your health insurance benefits. Before making an appointment, log in to myWellmark® Secure to check your benefits.
If you're interested in additional vision coverage and have health insurance through your employer, ask your human resources department for more information. If you are a Medicare member, vision coverage may be included in your plan, or you may be eligible to enroll in a vision and hearing plan Opens New Window.
Healthy habits will protect your vision
Aside from scheduling regular eye exams, there are other important things you can do to protect your vision. For example, when you are outdoors, wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent UV protection, and if you spend a lot of time in front of electronic screens, keep your distance or wear glasses that block blue light.
Take this quiz to boost your eye-Q, and as a bonus, learn about superfoods that are especially helpful for eye health. If you’re a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member, you can also access discounts on products to help you protect your vision with Blue365® External Site.
Avesis Vision is an independent vision insurance company that does not provide Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield products and services. Avesis Vision is underwritten by Fidelity Security Life Insurance Company, Kansas City, Missouri. Hearing Discount Savings Plan provided by Amplifon. Amplifon is an independent company that does not provide Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield products or services.