Medical conditions that can occur more commonly in seniors will also affect the eyes such as: diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammatory diseases, cancers and other systemic conditions.
Cataracts are a common cause of vision loss in seniors. Cataracts are a clouding or opacity in the lens of the eye. Just as in a camera, the human eye has a lens that focuses light and images. If the lens becomes opacified due to cataract, the vision becomes blurry. Cataracts can be removed surgically. Most commonly, cataracts are removed through a small incision using ultrasound energy. Once the cataract is removed, we replace the cloudy lens with a new, clear, artificial lens implant. When cataracts significantly affect vision, then cataract surgery often can dramatically improve visual acuity.
Dry eye is another common eye problem in seniors. As we age, our eyes often become drier. Certain medical conditions and some medications can also make the eyes more dry. Dry eyes can result in discomfort such as stinging or burning. Also, patients with dry eyes often complain that they can read for only a short time before their vision becomes filmy. Dry eye can be treated with over-the-counter lubricating drops, but there is also prescription medication and / or minor surgical procedures that can help dry eyes.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that is more common in seniors. Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve that connects the eye to the brain and can lead to blindness. Some of the risk factors for glaucoma include: a family history of glaucoma, a history of trauma to the eye, severe nearsightedness and exposure to steroid medications. Other risk factors for glaucoma include high eye pressure and thin corneas but these factors cannot be evaluated without a complete eye examination. Because glaucoma has no symptoms in the early stages, it is important for seniors to be screened for glaucoma by an EyeMD. Many seniors are not aware that Medicare covers an eye exam to screen for glaucoma. I highly recommend that anyone over the age of 65 have an initial screening examination for glaucoma and other common eye problems that affect seniors.
Macular degeneration is one more common eye disease among seniors. The macula is the center vision area in the back of the eye. With age, the macula can deteriorate causing loss of central vision. We call this Age Related Macular Degeneration. Some risk factors for macular degeneration include: a family history, smoking, poor diet and excessive sun exposure. I recommend that all my patients eat a healthy diet with lots of darkly colored vegetables, wear sunglasses with UV protection when outside and avoid smoking. Some forms of macular degeneration are now treatable and this is why it is important for seniors to have regular eye examinations and to see their EyeMD if they are having any new symptoms related to their eyes or vision.
Diabetes is an example of a systemic medical condition that can affect the eyes and vision. Diabetes can be a blinding condition, but it doesn’t have to be. Proper control of blood glucose and blood pressure decreases the risk of developing diabetic eye disease. However, no matter how well controlled your blood sugar may be, it is important for every diabetic to see an EyeMD every year to check for diabetic complications that can lead to blindness if untreated.
The seniors that I treat in my practice are often well informed and ask lots of questions, and I think that is great! In general, today’s patients are more informed and more involved in their health care than ever before. So how can seniors select the most qualified eye care provider for their medical and surgical eye care? First seniors should ask for credentials. You need to be proactive about selecting the best care. Ask if your eye care specialist is an M.D. and if he or she is board certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology.