How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy

How To Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Ageing eyes aren’t something you tend to think about until you notice they’re deteriorating, when suddenly you need to hold your phone or the menu a little further away. But change they do, and not just in their ability to focus up close. We caught up with three of the UK’s leading eye experts to find out more. From how diet can help to the symptoms you should never ignore, here’s what they had to say…

First – how does the ageing process affect your eyes?

“The ageing process seldom spares your eyesight. As you age, it’s normal for your vision to suffer, although to what extent and in what way varies between individuals. Presbyopia – when the eyes struggle to focus on things that are close up – is very common and typically starts once you reach your 40s or 50s. If you find yourself holding a restaurant menu at arm’s length so you can read it, this may be the case. Once you are in your 50s, you may also start to suffer with floaters. This is when little squiggles or dots appear in your field of vision. They tend to come and go and can sometimes be caused by age-related changes to the vitreous gel inside your eye, but they could also be a sign of something more sinister, so always get them checked by an eye specialist. Cataracts are also a common part of the ageing process. When you’re young, the lens of your eye is transparent like glass, but once you are in your 60s it can become less clear and may develop a yellowish tinge. Typical cataract symptoms include a blurring of your vision, especially at night, as well as seeing halos around bright objects and sensitivity to light. Cataracts slowly get worse as you age unless treated. Your risk of developing glaucoma – when a build-up of pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve – also increases with each decade after the age of 40, from around 1% in your 40s to up to 12% in your 80s.” – Dr Lorenzo Motta, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at OCL Vision
“While we often think of ageing as it relates to conditions such as presbyopia, more subtle changes in our vision and eye structures also take place as you get older. For example, the muscles that control your pupil size and reaction to light lose strength, which causes the pupils to become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting. Because of this, people in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.” – Mr Amir Hamid, medical director and consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Optegra eye hospital group

What about aesthetic changes?

“It will come as no surprise that the delicate skin around your eyes is one of the first places to show signs of ageing. As you age, the skin on your eyelids lose elasticity and stretches, and the muscles directly underneath weaken. The eyeball is also cushioned in fat and is held in place by the septum. As the septum weakens over time, the orbital fat above and below your eyelids prolapses, causing sagging and the appearance of bags. As well as making you look older, severely sagging skin around the upper eyelids can reduce your peripheral vision.” – Dr Elizabeth Hawkes, consultant oculoplastic and ophthalmic surgeon at Cadogan Clinic 

Are sight issues inevitable as you age?

“Statistically, there are more women with age-related eye problems than men. Studies suggest the menopause and hormones play a role in this. After the menopause, some women report dry eyes, along with light sensitivity and increased tearing, and this is likely due to falling oestrogen levels. Dry eyes will likely cause discomfort but can be treated easily with eye drops.” – Lorenzo 

People in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.
Mr Amir Hamid

How often should you be seeing your optician? 

“It’s a good idea for everyone to see an optometrist once a year, especially once you reach your mid-40s. Regular visits to an optician will allow you to keep tabs on your eye health and spot early any problems that may be developing. If they notice anything unusual, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist who can investigate further. Remember that conditions such as diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) can make you more prone to eye problems, so if you suffer from either of these, you need to be especially alert to the state of your eye health.” – Lorenzo 
“The NHS recommends biannual eye tests, but if you have glasses or other eye problems, make an appointment once a year. Remember that several of the more serious and sight-threatening conditions – such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration – can have no symptoms at the early stages. At the same time, they are more efficiently treated if they are diagnosed early.” – Amir

What are the symptoms you shouldn’t ignore?

“Never ignore floaters – dark squiggles, dots or lines which appear in your field of vision. They may be a sign that your retina is becoming detached, which could lead to permanent damage to your vision. Plus, if you notice the images in the centre of your vision are distorted, don’t ignore it. This could be a sign of macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of blindness among the elderly. According to the Macular Society, more than 600,000 people in the UK have age-related macular degeneration and, due to the ageing population, that number is set to more than double to 1.3 million by 2050. While macular degeneration won’t cause total blindness, it can make everyday activities such as reading and recognising faces difficult, so never ignore a loss of peripheral vision or seeing distorted images.” – Lorenzo 

Can diet help?

“Yes – what you eat can have a significant contribution to eye health, as your eyes depend on certain nutrients to work effectively. Eating foods rich in vitamins A and C, bioflavonoids, carotenoids, omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and antioxidants can help them function at their best for longer. If you eat fish, be sure to eat plenty of oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, naturally found in the retina of the eye. Dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale all contain an abundance of carotenoids which protect the retina and lens, while dark berries are a good source of eye-friendly antioxidants. It’s no myth that carrots are good for the eyes, as the vitamin A inside them protects the cells in your eyes and helps prevent night blindness. Vitamin C, which is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, is also important, as it helps to prevent damage to eye tissue.” – Lorenzo 
“Some studies have found that fish oils can ease symptoms of dry eyes and blepharitis (inflammation along the edges of the eyelids). Also try to eat more nuts and seeds, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamin E, which can help protect the eyes from age-related damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin – substances which give yellow, red and some green foods their pigment, so think red peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, kale and spinach – are also important for macular health and should be added to the diet if you have a family history of age-related macular degeneration. Studies also show the Mediterranean diet is great for eye health.” – Elizabeth 

Age-related macular degeneration tends to be more prevalent among smokers and those who are overweight.
Dr Lorenzo Motta

What about lifestyle – is there anything else you can do to protect your eyes?

“Smoking is bad for virtually every aspect of your health, and your eye health is no different. For example, age-related macular degeneration tends to be more prevalent among smokers and those who are overweight. It’s also worth thinking about the impact on your eyes of prolonged exposure to high levels of UV. Bright sunshine isn’t just uncomfortable if it makes you squint, but over time strong UV rays can damage the macula.” – Lorenzo 

If you are considering treatment for your vision, what are your options?

“If you are suffering with cataracts, you aren’t alone. In fact, cataracts affect one in three adults and the only treatment is surgery. Cataract surgery is the most commonly performed elective surgery on the NHS, with around 330,000 procedures a year in England alone. Cataract surgery is extremely safe and so effective that 100% of vision lost to cataract formation is restored. At Optegra, we work closely with the NHS to provide this treatment, but we also offer an upgraded version where the replacement lens is tailored to your own vision. This treatment is currently only available privately.” – Amir 
“As you continue to age, you may find that your presbyopia becomes more advanced and requires a change in prescription more frequently until you reach the age of 60, when these changes should level out. If you are considering laser eye surgery, know there are different types. The most common type is called LASIK, for which over 90% of patients are suitable. This procedure involves the surgeon using a laser to create a tiny flap in your cornea, and then reshaping the cornea underneath, thus correcting your vision. Both eyes are treated at the same time, and the whole procedure typically takes around 10 to 15 minutes. Your eyes will start healing as soon as the procedure is over, and your vision should improve almost immediately – the full benefits become apparent 24 to 48 hours after surgery. Patients who have particularly thin corneas are better suited to a procedure called LASEK. This uses a laser to reshape the surface of the cornea directly, meaning recovery time is longer. Patients typically notice their vision improve within a few weeks following the procedure.” – Lorenzo 
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DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.

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