YOU may have taken your eyes for granted all your life, but now is the time to take care of them … or risk going blind.
Consultant opthalmologist and vitreoretinal surgeon Dr Kenneth Fong Choong Sian says that senior citizens should get their eyes checked once a year.
This gives the eye doctor a chance to check the eye pressure, see if cataract is developing and even check if you need to change your spectacles. According to him, when you’re older you should change your glasses once every three years.
It’a also too late for lasik. People over 50 are no longer eligible for lasik surgery to correct their vision.
“It would not be suitable. You might as well have a cataract operation because when we do the operation to remove the lens of your eye, we put a new artificial lens inside. That will help you see far without glasses, and newer lenses can even help you read without the need for glasses,” says Dr Fong.
According to him, common complaints from seniors are blurred vision, distortion, floaters (black spots), red or painful eyes, and lack of sharpness, especially when driving at night.
Dr Fong informs that senior citizens largely have three main eye problems: Glaucoma, cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Glaucoma is quite common and occurs in 30% of the population. It’s often picked up very late, unfortunately.
“The way to pick it up is by going to the optician, optometrist or eye doctor to get your eye pressure checked. Glaucoma is caused by high pressure in the eye which gradually damages the optic nerve at the back of the eye,” says Dr Fong.
Glaucoma causes the peripheral loss of vision. This means, you will slowly not be able to see the things in the corner of your eyes.
According to Dr Fong, patients often don’t notice the loss of peripery vision until they’ve lost a lot of their field of vision and by that time it’s too late.
That’s why glaucoma is picked up late. The treatment is eye drops to relieve the pressure and if necessary, surgery.
This is the most publicised of the eye problems. It is the clouding of the lens and is the most common cause of visual loss.
Dr Fong informs that everyone over the age of 50 will develop cataract. However, because everyone has different vision needs, not everyone will have to go for surgery.
“If you have cataract, you can go for surgery, which is done under local anaesthesia. A small cut is made in the eye, the cataract is removed and an artificial lens is inserted. The eye heals on its own and there is no need for stitches of any kind.
“You can lose your sight if you don’t do anything for many years. But with surgery you can get good results and see again. It’s not permanent blindness,” explains Dr Fong.
However, sometimes even after the cataract surgery is performed the senior citizen may still have poor vision. This is because they might have another problem at the back of the eye, which is AMD.
AMD is the most common cause of permanent loss of vision for those over 50 years old. It occurs in about 30% of the population.
This is the most worrying of the three, informs Dr Fong.
“AMD is interesting. It happens more in affluent populations. There is a strong link with the western style diet like junk food, high cholesterol and lack of exercise. All of these increase your risk of AMD,” says Dr Fong.
Those at increased risk:
- People over 75;
- Those who smoke;
- Those with family history of AMD; and
- Those with low intake of certain vitamins and minerals.
To protect the eyes from AMD, Dr Fong recommends:
- Avoid smoking;
- Avoid being overweight;
- Exercise regularly;
- Eat a healthy balanced diet consisting of oily fish (twice a week), green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit daily; and
- Avoid excessive exposure to sunlight by wearing sunglasses.
Compared with glaucoma, AMD is easier to detect because those who have it have a loss of central vision. This means, looking at themselves in the mirror, they won’t be able to see their nose.
Even though it seems obviously noticeable, there are still some who come in too late.
According to the Age Related Eye Diseases Study (AREDS) done in the US and completed in 2006 (involving 4,000 patients), patients at high risk of developing AMD, benefitted from taking nutritional supplements containing high doses of antioxidants.
“There’s good evidence that a diet full of antioxidants, carotenoids (lutein, Zeaxanthin) and Omega 3 can reduce your risk of AMD. This has been proven in major studies where they tested on 10,000 patients and half had supplements and the other half didn’t,” says Dr Fong.
However, he cautions seniors against self-medicating because of the complex mix of medications they may already be taking. He advises those who are in doubt to speak to their eye doctor about it first.
“High-dose nutrients can interfere with medications and interact with other nutrients to decrease the nutrient absorption into the body.”
He also warns that the AREDS trial did not show that the formulation prevented people from developing early signs of AMD.
For those who are just popping pills to improve their eyes (as well as their joints, heart, kidneys, skin, bones etc), Dr Fong advises they speak to their doctor about what they are taking.
“They are all basically combinations of the same thing. They all have Vitamin A, C, E. First of all, they should see their own doctor and find out if they really need the supplements. Secondly, they should just stick to one supplement and look at the dosages. Sometimes the dosage is very high. If they’re taking the same thing for their heart, they may be overdosing.
“Anyway, if you’re eating healthy, there’s no reason to take supplements. If you’re taking fruits, vegetables and fish, you really don’t need supplements,” says Dr Fong, informing that there is evidence that spinach is very good for the eyes.
* Dr Kenneth Fong Choong Sian and his wife dietitian Goo Chui Hoong have authored a book entitled Food for Your Eyes, published in 2012.