How to Improve Vision and Maintain Eye Health
Some vision changes can be expected with age. There may be a shift in how you perceive colors or how your eyes focus. You may need more light to read or drive. Many people wonder how to improve their vision once they notice these differences. Luckily, even though minor changes are a normal part of aging, many vision impairments are preventable and treatable.
Some age-related vision changes can be corrected with surgery, glasses or contacts. You can also keep your eyesight sharp by taking care of your health before serious problems begin. Some simple exercises can even keep your vision healthy.
“The most important and easiest exercise to remember is the 20-20-20 rule,” says Christopher E. Starr, M.D. FACS, ophthalmologist at Weill Cornell Medicine Ophthalmology. “When you're on a computer, take a break every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, by looking into the distance at an object that's 20 feet away or further.”
Many vision problems are treatable or manageable if discovered early. However, once vision loss starts, it may be irreversible. Take steps to care for your eyes today to help protect your vision far into the future.
Eye conditions are common in older adults but can happen at any age. You may be at a higher risk for eye or vision problems if you:
- Are African American, Latino or Native American
- Are overweight
- Have a family or personal history of eye problems
- Have other chronic health conditions, including diabetes, Graves’ disease or high blood pressure
Common Eye Conditions
The most common type of eye problem is refractive errors. These conditions impact how light focuses in your eye and include:
Most refractive errors develop in childhood and are caused by problems with the shape of the eye. The exception is presbyopia, caused by age-related loss of flexibility and strength.
“As we get older, our eye muscles that focus up close get weak,” says Dr. Starr. “Usually, that starts around age 40 and progresses to age 65 and beyond.”
Age may also be a factor in other eye conditions that can cause severe damage but are not a natural part of aging. These conditions can often be treated or slowed. However, they may lead to significant vision loss if not detected early. Examples include:
- Age-related macular degeneration, a condition that causes cells in the eye to break down
- Cataract, a clouding of the eye lens
- Diabetic retinopathy, a problem with blood vessels in the eyes
- Glaucoma, a condition that damages the optic nerve
Other eye conditions, such as computer vision syndrome, may not lead to vision loss but may still stress your eyes unnecessarily. This condition can happen when you spend long hours at a computer.
“It’s estimated you have up to 50% fewer blinks per minute when you’re staring at a computer,” says Dr. Starr. “This leads to dryness. As the day goes on, the fatigue of staring at these sort of near distance targets, like a computer or a mobile device, you'll get frontal headaches and eye strain and blurry vision from the muscles getting weak as the day goes on.”
Sometimes vision issues are caused by problems with the signals that run between the eyes and the brain. These issues can happen for a variety of reasons. For example, children sometimes develop amblyopia or lazy eye. This is when one eye has better vision than the other, and the brain relies on information from the stronger eye. In adults, vision problems may be caused by a brain injury, infection or stroke.
Eye Exams to Prevent Vision Loss and Maintain Eye Health
Many eye conditions don’t have symptoms in the early stages. According to the National Eye Institute, a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilation is the only way to detect many eye diseases early.
During dilation, the provider will place drops in your eyes to widen the round openings at the center, called pupils. Then they use a specialized magnifying lens to look for damage in the eye.
Your eye exam will also include tests to check:
- Eye muscle function
- Peripheral vision, or how much you can see on the side while looking forward
- Pressure in your eyes
- Response to light
- Vision clarity
People with diabetes or high blood pressure typically need at least one comprehensive yearly eye exam with dilation. Dilated eye exams are recommended every one to two years if you:
- Are African American and are age 40 or older
- Are of any race or ethnicity and age 60 or older
- Have a family history of glaucoma
Even if you are young and healthy, a comprehensive eye exam may be helpful. The National Eye Institute reports that more than 150 million people in the United States have a refractive error that may be corrected with surgery, glasses or contacts. However, many people don’t know they aren’t seeing as clearly as they could be.
“Different ages and different people with different refractive errors like astigmatism, farsightedness or nearsightedness will have different requirements when it comes to what is the ideal pair of glasses,” says Dr. Starr.
Natural Ways to Help Improve Vision and Eye Health
You can take steps to help improve eye health and prevent vision loss on your own:
- Don’t smoke.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet with dark, leafy greens and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Exercise regularly.
- Use protective eyewear during activities that may be dangerous to your eyes, such as yard work, sports or home repairs.
- Wash your hands before handling contact lenses.
- Wear sunglasses with 99% or 100% UVA and UVB protection.
Individuals who do a lot of computer work should consider computer glasses to safeguard their vision during long days working in front of a screen.
“Computer glasses are glasses that are ideally suited to that intermediate arm's length distance that desktop computers usually sit at,” says Dr. Starr. “The glasses will keep that distance in focus and will alleviate a lot of that burden on the eye muscles to keep things in focus. It should help people who struggle with eye strain as the day goes on.”
Managing chronic conditions, such as diabetes, can also improve your eye health. The earlier you take steps to manage your health, the better.
People with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk for multiple eye conditions, such as cataracts, diabetic macular edema and diabetic retinopathy.
Approximately 33% of people with diabetes aged 40 or older have already developed signs of diabetic retinopathy. But the risk of blindness can be lowered by 95% if diabetic retinopathy is discovered and treated early.
Treating Vision and Eye Conditions
Poor vision from refractive errors can often be corrected with glasses, contacts or surgery. Treatments for other eye conditions depend on the cause and the level of severity. It may include eye drops, medications, laser treatments or surgery.
If your eyes are not working together or there is a problem with eye movements, a specialist called an orthoptist may be able to help. You may also see a neuro-ophthalmology specialist if the brain is involved in your vision issues.
A comprehensive eye exam is an excellent way for everyone to care for eye health. But it is essential if you’re noticing changes or are at risk for eye conditions.
“Anybody who has a change in their eyes or vision should go straight to your eye doctor,” says Dr. Starr. “It’s better to have it evaluated in the proper fashion than sitting on it and hoping it just gets better on its own.”
The specialists at Weill Cornell Medicine Ophthalmology are here for you. Call (646) 962-2020 to make an appointment.