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Our eyes are incredible organs that provide us detailed information about the world around us. For anyone, the loss of vision can be a crippling concern.
When we think about vision loss, the most common cause is known as macular degeneration. The macula is the area of the eye where images are focused. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe visual loss in the United States in persons fifty-five years or older. Nearly 150,000 Americans are legally blind from age-related macular degeneration with 20,000 new cases occurring each year.
The most common risk factors for macular degeneration are aging, smoking, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and high blood pressure. All of these risk factors are believed to contribute to decreased blood and oxygen supply to the eye (specifically the retina) which leads to increased damage to the macula. The degeneration of the macula is the result of free radical damage, similar to the damage that occurs in the formation of cataracts.
As with many health concerns that progress as we age, macular degeneration can be prevented by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Because exposure to free radicals is a major factor in macular degeneration, avoiding or quitting smoking is of the utmost importance. High blood pressure and the progression of heart disease is also a major risk factor, so practicing heart healthy habits is critical.
Here are some simple tips to maintaining healthy vision:
- Get regular eye exams. Per recommendations from the American Optometric Association, if you have no risk factors for vision loss, schedule eye exams every two to three years until age 40, every two years between ages 40 and 60, and annually after age 60. If you have diabetes, family history of eye problems, or are African-American, you may need more frequent vision exams. People of African-American descent are at greater risk for glaucoma.
- Wear sunglasses with both UVA and UVB protection. Worn consistently, these sunglasses can block ultraviolet and other rays that contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration. Sunglasses are especially important when near snow or water, which intensify the sun’s harmful rays.
- Eat healthy food. Snack on lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins that can prevent eye disease. Green leafy veggies such as kale, collard and mustard greens and spinach contain lutein and carotenes, which help to protect from macular degeneration. Fresh blueberries are a rich source of proanthocyanadins, an antioxidant pigment that is protective to the macula.
- Don’t smoke. If you do, try to quit. Smoking can injure the eyes in many ways, increasing the risk of optic nerve damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and other disorders.
- Give your eyes a break. Any activity that requires your eyes to focus for a long time can keep you from blinking enough. Prevent eye strain on the road by stopping and resting your eyes or giving them a drink of artificial tears if they are fatigued or irritated. Make sure to drink plenty of water – dehydration has a significant effect on your eyes.
- Keep fit. Maintaining a healthy body contributes to eye health. Regular exercise increases circulation and lowers blood pressure, which can decrease the risk of eye diseases. Seeing your primary care physician yearly can help rule out systemic problems such as heart disease and diabetes, both of which affect the eyes.
- Supplement your diet. Adding a daily multivitamin in addition to a lutein supplement can provide additional nutritional resources for promoting eye health. A number of very good research studies have demonstrated the importance of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients, like lutein in protecting and enhancing vision.
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