As September takes us from the summer’s heat to the cooler days of fall, I am reminded that just like the year, our lives have seasons. In addition to ushering in fall, September also marks Healthy Aging Month, which offers a wonderful reminder for all of us to take simple steps that improve our health so we can better enjoy the promises of all the seasons.
Small changes, like exercising regularly, watching sugar intake and monitoring cholesterol levels, can make a significant difference in future health. However, one large aspect of aging is often overlooked – eye health. Throughout my years as an ophthalmologist, I’ve seen how health and vision health are linked. For example, people who suffer from diabetes are more likely to develop severe vision problems, even blindness, while heavy tobacco use can contribute to cataracts.
Because many eye ailments can be treated if caught early, it is important to regularly monitor our changing vision as we age. Good eyesight is vital to many areas of day-to-day life, such as reading a prescription bottle, driving a car or even fully-experiencing visits with a friend or family member. Vision impairment and blindness is the leading cause of disability in older adults, but by taking a few small steps now, you can decrease your problems in the future.
Some of the best ways to manage your overall health, including vision, include:
• Stop smoking/vaping.
• Eat a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and fish.
• Exercise regularly.
• Limit sugar intake/control diabetes.
• Maintain normal blood pressure.
• Wear sunglasses that block ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB).
• Wear protective eye gear when playing sports or performing yard work that may cause eye injury.
• Schedule a comprehensive eye exam each year (for people over 50).
• Consult an ophthalmologist or eye care specialist if there are any changes in your vision.
Early detection is one of the most important tools for catching and addressing any vision health problems. Regular eye exams are strongly recommended for people over 50 to help detect serious eye ailments, including age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts. These diseases can often be treated if caught early.
In addition, problems can arise between visits, so always contact an eye health professional, such as an ophthalmologist, if you experience double vision, see flashes of light, have eye pain, have redness or swelling of your eye or eyelid, if your vision becomes blurry or you suddenly cannot see. And, don’t forget to discuss any vision changes when you see your primary care physician or a specialist, such as a cardiologist. By taking the time to share with your doctor any concerns you may have, including about your eyesight, you can help your physician guide you to a longer, healthier life.
Jean Hausheer, M.D., is an ophthalmologist based in Lawton and is immediate past president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. This column is part of OSMA’s ongoing mission to encourage better health for all Oklahomans.