“Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” wrote Shakespeare in As You Like It about the final stage of life. All the world’s a stage is great poetry, but certain steps not available in Shakespeare’s time can preserve your eyesight into old age. (As far as teeth are concerned, visit your dentist! I’ll take up the tooth issue in a later column.)
Glaucoma: A regular checkup by an eye doctor to screen for increased pressure in the fluid of your eyes will detect glaucoma, an eye disease leading to progressive loss of sight. Treatment with medicinal eye drops and laser surgery is effective. Most people should start eye checks at age 35- 40, and follow the testing advice of their eye doctor. Older people, African Americans, Hispanics, and those with a family history of glaucoma are more at risk.
Cataracts are changes in the lens inside the eye that focuses light on the retina (in the back of the eye). When the lens becomes cloudy, vision is impaired. Some causes of cataracts can be avoided – excessive exposure to UV light – wear sunglasses on bright days, and when on the water or in the snow. Start using sunglasses early in life. Don’t smoke! Smoking is a risk factor for cataracts. Stay active and of normal weight, to avoid diabetes, another risk factor for cataracts. Cataracts can be successfully treated with surgery, with the implantation of a new lens.
Macular Degeneration is a deterioration of the central portion of the retina – the interior layer of the eye that transmits signals into the optic nerve. With the macula we see detail – to read, recognize faces, do crafts, and get around safely. There is a dry and a ‘wet’ form of macular degeneration – the wet form can give rapid loss of vision due to blood vessel leaking that scars the retina. Macular degeneration is more common among lightly pigmented people (‘whites’), in smokers, in people who are obese, and in those with a family history of the disease.
Prevention of macular degeneration is important and the following steps are part of a program for healthy living that you already know. The health of your eyes is not separate from the rest of your body:
*Stop smoking! It’s a risk factor for blindness.
*Eat lots of vegetables, especially leafy greens. Kale, spinach. collard greens, broccoli, green peas and Brussels sprouts are all good sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin that are especially helpful for the retina. Prolonged cooking decreases the bioavailability of lutein, so steam your greens lightly, and eat a raw salad daily. Egg yolk is another good source of these antioxidants. Chickens that have been out in green pastures lay eggs with the deepest orange yolks, with more lutein.
*Eat fish and/or take fish oil supplements - the omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk. A 2009 study at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda showed that a diet with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids resulted in slower progression of macular degeneration (in mice), with improvement in some lesions. The mice also had lower levels of inflammatory makers, which may explain the protective effect.
*Exercise and maintain a healthy weight. A study from the University of Wisconsin found that people who were physically active were markedly less likely to develop macular degeneration.
*Wear sunglasses – they protect the retina
*See your eye doctor regularly
There is great beauty in this world, despite its terrible problems. To enjoy this visual beauty into old age, follow the steps in the column.
Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH Leave me a message!