LIKE creaking bones and thinning hair, declining vision is one of the unfortunate things we tend to associate with growing older.
But you can make a start today on strengthening your eyesight, just by having your eyes tested, says Professor Dan Reinstein, medical director at London Vision Clinic.
“In terms of looking after the health of your eyes as you age, there are several simple things that everyone can do,” he said.
“Firstly, it is crucial to ensure you have regular eye tests — worryingly, a 2014 poll by ICM showed that 28% of adults are not having their eyes examined within the recommended two-year time frame, which is quite frightening, given that some eye conditions progress without the person knowing.”
And what about those old wives’ tales, and other confusing statements we often hear about our eyes?
Here, Prof Reinstein sets the record straight.
CARROTS MAKE YOU SEE BETTER
TRUE (sort of): “A major clinical trial called the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed a significant link between the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin and a reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD),” says Prof Reinstein.
“These antioxidants can be found in green leafy vegetables, blueberries, bilberries and tomatoes, for example; it’s generally not necessary to take expensive ocular supplements, if you’re healthy and have a good diet. Beta-carotene, found in carrots, also had similar effects — so it’s not entirely a myth that carrots can help you see!”
LOOKING AT A SCREEN ALL DAY DAMAGES EYES
FALSE (but it will make them uncomfortable): “Luckily, there is currently no evidence that regular use of screens causes long-term damage to the eyes. However, it can cause some unpleasant symptoms.
“When we use a computer for long periods, we only blink around four to seven times per minute. Our usual rate of blinking is more like 18-20 times per minute, so this is a significant reduction — it can cause symptoms such as dry eyes and blurred vision. This can be alleviated by taking regular breaks from your screen, and being conscious of blinking regularly.”
IT’S DANGEROUS TO LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN
TRUE: “It’s important to ensure you wear sunglasses to block UV rays as much as possible — this can help prevent the progression of cataracts.
“There’s a misconception that the most expensive designer sunglasses will be the safest, but really the most important thing is to ensure that your sunglasses offer the CE Marked label for UV protection.”
REGULARLY WEARING GLASSES MAKES VISION WORSE
FALSE: “This simply isn’t true; you may get a headache if your glasses prescription is not accurate, but it cannot harm your eyes.
“What is crucial, however, is that young children who need glasses must wear accurately prescribed glasses as much as possible. Amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treatable if detected early — ideally before the age of five,” says Prof Reinstein.
“The treatment may be as easy as wearing glasses, or may involve partial or total temporary patching of one eye. If amblyopia is left untreated beyond age eight, there is a much higher risk of developing permanent amblyopia, and of significant visual loss in the affected eye as a result.
“In fact, amblyopia is the most common cause of permanent visual loss in children in the developed world. Therefore, regular eye examinations for all children are absolutely critical, and are available on the NHS for everyone.”
IT’S ALWAYS OBVIOUS IS YOU HAVE AN EYE PROBLEM
FALSE: “There are several serious eye conditions, such as glaucoma and retinal holes and tears, which can be symptomless. Open-angle glaucoma — the most common type of glaucoma — often presents with no symptoms at all, and vision is usually lost from the periphery first, so may not be initially noticeable.
“Glaucoma is treatable, but visual damage that has already occurred cannot be repaired — which is why regular eye examinations, allowing early diagnosis, are so important.
“According to the World Health Organisation, glaucoma is the currently the biggest cause of blindness worldwide; approximately seven million people are blind from glaucoma - which is why it is known as ‘the silent thief of sight’. More than half the glaucoma in the UK goes undetected until it’s too late to prevent damage to the vision.”