Annual exams, diet, lifestyle changes key to continued vision health

Monday, March 5, 2012
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According to Eye on the Boomer, a recent survey by the Ocular Nutrition Society, almost as many baby boomers say they worry about losing their vision as those who say they worry about having heart disease or cancer. What's more, 78 percent of those surveyed ranked vision as the most important of the five senses. Yet, more than half of the survey respondents ages 45 to 65 said they don't typically have a recommended annual eye exam, and even fewer are aware of important nutrients that can play a key role in eye health.

"We think patients 50 and older should do an annual exam," says Dr. Gregory Leet of Leet Eyecare in Cape Girardeau. "We encourage everyone to do an annual exam; we're insistent on 50 and older." He says a lot of people wait to see a doctor until they think their glasses need updating, but after 50 that's no longer a good judge of eye health. "We become more likely each decade to have cataracts and eye disease. You don't know in early stages that you have that, so the focus of the exam changes after 50 to health detection and prevention."

Leet says the eye exam also changes as patients age to promote early detection of eye disease. In addition to measuring vision, doctors perform an ocular health evaluation, which Leet says includes the "dreaded air puff to check glaucoma pressure" as well as a microscopic exam for cataracts and checking the optic nerve. The exam involves dilating the eyes and lots of bright lights. "Technology has allowed more early detection," he says. "We can find (problems) early and keep eyes in good health."

Between annual exams, there are ways to protect the eyes.

"Wear sunglasses that provide the delicate skin around the eyes with protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation," says Dr. Scott McDougal of Regional Eyecare Center in Cape Girardeau. "UV rays have been associated with skin cancer and the development of cataracts. Sunglasses also reduce squinting, which can increase wrinkle formation. The best sunglasses use polarized lenses to further reduce glare."

He also recommends contact lens wearers follow doctor recommendations for replacing their lenses. "Overextending the replacement cycle on contact lenses increases the chances of infection and other complications that will decrease your ability to wear contact lenses comfortably or even at all," he says.

Leet recommends doing a regular, maybe monthly, self-assessment of your vision.

"I really tell patients to take an occasional evaluation of their vision," he says. "Stop for a minute and assess 'Am I seeing like I think I should?' Do it one eye at a time."

In addition to eye exams, experts say attention to dietary intake and vitamin supplementation become a greater focus of primary vision care. Studies indicate that proper nutrition promotes healthy eyes, but many American diets are found to be deficient of the critical nutrients that help protect eye health.

"Nutrition is important in maintaining good eye health," McDougal says. "A diet rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma. These substances can be obtained through a well-planned diet or through the use of dietary supplements. Oily fish such as salmon, halibut and swordfish are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetables such as kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and spinach are good sources of antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin."

Leet says taking a multivitamin, such as Centrum Silver, should be part of your routine for eye health. He also recommends a lifestyle change: "One thing I would say is that the more we get into smoking, the worse it does for the eye. Smoking big no-no with macular degeneration."

ARA Content contributed to this report.

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