You should see your eye doctor regularly to help avoid or minimize vision problems.
Common eye problems include blurred vision, halos, blind spots and floaters. Blurred vision refers to the loss of sharpness of vision and the inability to see small details. Blind spots, called scotomas, are dark “holes” in the visual field in which nothing can be seen. Floaters are small bits of protein or other material that drift in the clear gel-like portion of the eye. The source of these problems can be from damage to the eye itself, a condition of the body such as aging or diabetes, or a medication.
Often, people with vision problems wait far longer than necessary or sensible before getting an eye examination. If you have any change in vision, have it checked out by an eye care professional. Only an eye doctor can identify serious vision problems such as glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy at a stage early enough to treat.
These are the main categories of eye professionals:
- Opticians. They dispense glasses and do not diagnose eye problems.
- Optometrists. These are eye doctors who perform eye exams and diagnose eye disease. They prescribe glasses and contact lenses and prescribe eye medications to treat diseases.
- Ophthalmologists. These are medical doctors who diagnose and treat diseases that affect the eyes. These doctors may also provide routine vision care services, such as prescribing glasses and contact lenses.
- Primary care providers. Sometimes an eye problem is part of a general health problem. In these situations, your primary care provider should also be involved.
Symptoms to watch
The following symptoms, even if they are temporary, mean you should see an eye care professional immediately:
- Red, painful eye or pain in an eye; this is an emergency
- Partial or total vision loss in one or both eyes
- Double vision
- Blind spots, halos around lights or areas of distorted vision
- Sensation of a shade or curtain being drawn across your field of vision
These symptoms mean you should see an eye care professional soon:
- Trouble seeing objects on the sides of your visual field
- Trouble seeing at night or reading
- Objects are less sharp
- Trouble telling the difference between colors
- Blurring of objects that are far away or near
- Itching or fluid from your eye
Everyone should have a regular exam every year or two, and annually after age 60, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Between routine visits, you can take these essential steps to help maintain or improve your vision:
- Eat at least five servings daily of fruits and vegetables. In particular, nutrients found in dark-green, leafy vegetables such as spinach or kale may help to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among Americans.
- Don’t smoke.
- Take regular breaks while doing computer work and other eye-intensive tasks.
- Wear your glasses. This sounds obvious, but many people with low to moderate vision loss leave them at home or tucked in a pocket or purse, because of vanity or forgetfulness.
- Wear sunglasses when out of doors.
- Closely follow the recommended schedule for cleaning and wearing contact lenses.
- If you have hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes, make sure these conditions are under control.
What to do
Specific vision problems can benefit from specific solutions, according to the AOA:
- Sensitivity to bright light. Choose sunglasses that block 75 to 90 percent of visible light. In addition, sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of ultraviolet-A and -B radiation help protect against cataracts. Choose sunglasses that also block the blue wavelengths. Don’t wear dark glasses at night or indoors; doing so can make eyes more light-sensitive over time.
- Itchy, burning or red eyes. These symptoms can result from dry-eye conditions common after age 50, or from high mucous production in allergy-prone contact lens wearers. Using artificial tears may help with dry eye; switching to disposable or daily wear lenses can help some allergy sufferers. Contact lens wearers and adults older than 50 with these symptoms should consult an eye care professional for appropriate treatment.
- Trouble with glare. If nighttime headlight glare is an ongoing problem or if you work in visually demanding situations, ask your eye care professional about anti-reflection coated lenses, which can help reduce glare and reflections both day and night. Remember, for older adults, an increase sense of glare may be a symptom of beginning cataracts and a reason to get an eye exam.
- Reduced vision in aging eyes. In addition to a new eyeglass lens prescription, a helpful measure for older eyes is to place more lamps in the home and install task lighting. Choose high-output fluorescent bulbs to increase light output while decreasing energy usage. Eliminate glare with indirect lighting.
- Problems with new glasses. If, after a few days of wearing new lenses, you continue to suffer blurred vision, double vision or other problems, see your eye care professional. The problem may be solved by an adjustment to either the frame or the prescription.
- Annoying spots in front of your eyes. Generally, seeing spots or floaters is a common, harmless experience of aging. Seeing flashes, or, in some cases “floaters,” however, may signal something more serious, such as diabetic retinopathy, carotid artery disease, or early-stage retinal detachment. Call your doctor if you have symptoms.
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