by Val WillinghamMedical Producer
I have a passion for reading: books, magazines, even catalogs, you name it. And I never had a tough time following the fine print, until I got into my 40s. I just couldn't see up close. Although I had been wearing glasses since I was in sixth grade, all of a sudden, the words were out of focus. When I finally went to the eye doctor, he prescribed (here comes the dreaded word, most middle-age people hate to hear): Bifocals!
As we age, so do our eyes. It's just inevitable. Most people, as they get into their late 30s and early 40s, begin to have difficulty reading up close. Many people are forced to wear bifocals or reading glasses. They develop presbyopia, a condition in which the eyes don't have the ability to focus on near objects as we get older. The first symptoms are usually difficulty reading fine print, particularly in low light conditions, eyestrain when reading for long periods and blurred vision. Although in some cases it can be corrected with surgery, many people choose to go the glasses route.
As we age, we may also develop a condition known as glaucoma. It can start to develop in our 30s. Elevated pressure within the eye damages the optic nerve and can lead to blindness. Even people with normal blood pressure are at risk. "It's one of the most important things to look for, because 3 million Americans have glaucoma and half don't even know it," says Dr. Roy Rubinfeld of Washington Eye Physicians in Chevy Chase, Maryland. So make sure your ophthalmologist tests you for glaucoma.
In our 40s, we also can begin to form cataracts. That's right, in our 40s. Eye doctors say to avoid developing cataracts, protect your eyes and wear sunglasses to shield out ultraviolet light. Too much sunlight can damage the eyes, causing cataracts to grow.
And watch what you eat. Evidence shows that a diet rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin E and zinc, may prevent the onset of macular degeneration, a problem we begin to see in our 50s. Rubinfeld notes that as we age, the retina, which is in the back of the eye, ages too. "With age, it can deteriorate, and macular degeneration is one of the most common reasons for people, as they get older, to start to lose vision," Rubinfeld said.
Rubinfeld has performed more than 15,000 laser eye surgeries since the early 1990s. As laser surgery increases in popularity and the procedures become more perfected, he said, many people who didn't qualify for vision correction even a few years ago can now have it done. Rubinfeld finds people who thought they'd never be able to see again without glasses are waking up from laser surgery with a new outlook on life. Most patients, he sees, want to keep their vision in tip-top shape, much as they want to keep their bodies with regular workouts at the gym. Rubinfeld notes the aging eye should be a thing of the past and with yearly eye exams, and surgery options, patients' eyes should be as young as they feel.
Have you had eye surgery to correct your vision? Tell us about it.
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