Start young to prevent age-related vision loss – The Daily Freeman

January 25th, 2020 1:46 am

KINGSTON, N.Y. If you ever thought cool shades were a mere fashion statement, think again. Wearing good sunglasses may help to prevent blindness as you age, an eye doctor told a group of seniors at a recent event in Kingston.

Aging is hard enough, but age-related blindness is enough to challenge anybody. On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the Health Alliance presentation to the Seniors Health and Wellness Breakfast Club at the Marys Avenue hospital campus focused on glaucoma and macular degeneration, two common eye diseases that afflict people as they age.

Dr. Sankara Mahesh, an ophthalmologist based at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, N.Y., spoke to the group of seniors, using slides and pictures to explain how these diseases develop and how to (possibly) prevent them.

Glaucoma, said Mahesh, is a leading cause of vision loss in the United States. There are 3 million people in the U.S. who suffer from it, he added.

Mahesh explained that glaucoma happens when the pressure inside the eye is inappropriate. That means its either too high, or (less frequently) too low. Eye pressure usually does not relate to a persons blood pressure, although a low diastolic blood pressure may indicate low eye pressure.

Eye pressure is so important because the eye is nourished by fluid that is constantly introduced to and drained from the eye. When for some reason the drain is blocked, eye pressure goes up. If theres not enough fluid, eye pressure goes down. Without the appropriate amount of nourishing fluid, silent, irreversible damage to the optic nerve begins.

Fifty percent of people who have [glaucoma] dont know it, said Mahesh. There are no early symptoms. It slowly affects peripheral vision. Damage is slow and subtle, and takes place over a number of years.

The bad news: The damage is irreversible. And glaucoma, noted Mahesh, does not go away. The good news: Early detection can prevent vision loss.

At age 40, people should get a comprehensive eye exam, said Mahesh, and then continue to have eye exams yearly. Anyone can get glaucoma, but risk factors include age, family history, eye trauma, and African, Asian or Hispanic heritage.

Using eye drops to lower eye pressure is the usual treatment, but there are surgical interventions, as well. Mahesh noted that there are a number of recent advances in minimally invasive surgery, and some new devices for treating glaucoma are coming soon.

Prevention includes regular exercise and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Smoking and stress increase risk (meditation is recommended), as does diabetes and being overweight. Being underweight is also a risk factor.

Sunglasses are a preventive measure for macular degeneration, but the glasses must block UVA and UUB rays. Darker color doesnt mean it protects better, said Mahesh. And polarized sunglasses may help reduce glare, but they do nothing to protect from macular degeneration.

Macular degeneration is caused by damage to the macula, the part of the retina that is at the back of the inner eyeball.

Again, heredity is a risk factor for macular degeneration, a blindness that begins in the center of the visual field, but heredity is not a foregone conclusion. Having a sibling or parent with the condition doesnt mean you will develop it.

Smokers have two times the risk as non-smokers, and Caucasians are more likely to develop macular degeneration than other groups.

The cause is not exactly known, said Mahesh. It may be wear and tear or sunlight exposure. Drusen, the small, yellow lipids (fatty proteins) that grow under the retina, are suspected culprits.

There is no good way to treat the disease, other than by taking a combination of vitamins that may slow its progress. Ten percent of people with macular degeneration have the wet kind, which means that there is bleeding and swelling inside the eye. This type can be helped with eye injections.

Again, prevention and regular eye exams are key to maintaining good eye health, including a healthy diet, exercise and not smoking.

The Seniors Health and Wellness Breakfast Club, open to individuals age 65 and older, meets monthly at the Nuvance Health Alliance hospital on Marys Avenue from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. to eat, socialize and learn more about a variety of health issues.

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Start young to prevent age-related vision loss - The Daily Freeman

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