Changes in Vision

Your reality and perceptions are formed by the information you take in through your senses, anything you can do to keep your sensory organs in top running order will make your life more comfortable and effective.

What Changes Will Occur?

Though few women need to worry about quickly losing their vision as they near the age of menopause, it can begin to diminish around the age of forty or fifty. We live in a visual culture, and most women agree that a high quality of life depends on their ability to see. There are a number of ways to protect this very important faculty.

Essential

Some medications can change your vision, either by reducing your ability to focus or by reducing your eyes' lubrication, making them dry and itchy. If you notice changes in your vision shortly after you've begun taking a new medication, contact the doctor who prescribed the medication and report the change immediately.

Monitoring Changes in Vision

Around the age of forty, many women begin to experience changes in vision. The shape of your eyeball can change as you age, and the subsequent reduction of your visual acuity can be subtle at first. Here are a few of the most common problems you might encounter after age forty:

  • You may develop problems reading small print or seeing objects clearly that are close to your eyes. This condition is known as presbyopia, and usually is easy to correct with reading glasses, or even over-the-counter magnifying glasses from the drugstore.

  • You might begin to notice tiny specks or odd dust-like particles passing before your vision. These “floaters” usually are just a normal condition of the aging eye. If they become extreme in number, or are accompanied by bright flashes of light, you should contact your ophthalmologist immediately. A sudden increase in the numbers of floaters can be a warning of a retinal tear or other more serious vision problem.

  • You may experience problems with your eyes becoming dry and irritated after you spend some time reading or working at the computer. Again, this problem isn't unusual in over-forty eyes, and you may be able to alleviate it by using “artificial tears” (available over the counter in most drugstores) for better lubrication.

Alert

If you work at a computer, don't allow your eyes to focus for long periods of time on the screen. Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes look up from the computer at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Overuse and strain can take a toll on eyes, and long, uninterrupted hours at the computer can contribute to the damage.

Vision Problems to Watch For

Some people experience a substantial loss in the quality of their vision before they realize that the problem even exists. That's why all women (and men for that matter) after the age of forty should get regular annual eye examinations by an ophthalmologist. Women over the age of fifty are at particular risk of developing eye diseases, some of which might be connected to the loss of the body's natural estrogens. Your ophthalmologist will check for the following age-related diseases during your exam.

Macular Degeneration

Macular degeneration attacks the center of the retina, so central vision diminishes while peripheral vision remains unchanged. Macular degeneration can make reading and driving impossible; it's the number one cause of blindness in women age sixty-five and over. Its risk factors include being menopausal or postmenopausal, a family history of the disease, smoking, perhaps high blood pressure, and overexposure to the sun and other ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Although there is not yet a cure for macular degeneration, there are treatments that can stop the progression in some people. Prevention of the damage is the best course, and high intake of green, leafy vegetables has been shown to slow the progression of the disease.

There are studies that suggest that estrogen replacement helps postpone or prevent the onset of macular degeneration. The National Eye Institute conducted a study on age-related eye disease that showed a 25 percent reduction in the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration when taking antioxidants and zinc in these dosages: 400 IU of vitamin E, 500 mg of vitamin C, 25,000 IU of vitamin A, 80 mg of zinc, and 2 mg of copper. You can't get these dosages even in a well-balanced diet, so if you have a high risk of age-related macular degeneration, consider taking this combination to stave off the disease; talk to your doctor for more information.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve and is caused by a buildup of fluid, and thus pressure, inside the eye. When doctors detect and treat glaucoma early, the eye can escape permanent nerve damage. Chronic glaucoma develops slowly and, in most cases, is only detectable in its early stage through an eye examination. Acute glaucoma can happen suddenly, blurring the vision and causing a number of symptoms including nausea and dizziness. Risk factors include being over forty, being African American, having a family history of glaucoma, having diabetes, or being nearsighted.

Fact

Doctors can't reverse the optic nerve damage caused by glaucoma, so early detection is essential. Ophthalmologists can test for glaucoma using a number of procedures. The simplest of these tests involves applying a short burst of air to your eye and determining how the surface of the eye responds to the pressure.

Cataracts

Cataract (clouding of the eye lens) risk increases with age. Some common symptoms include cloudy or blurry vision, fading color vision, “halos” around lights, or poor night vision. Your risk is higher if you have diabetes, spend long periods in bright daylight, or use tobacco or alcohol. In early stages, it is sometimes treated with prescription lenses, better lighting, or magnifying lenses. But if the lens is badly clouded, surgery removing the lens and replacing it with an artificial lens may be necessary.

Don't Be Shortsighted about Your Vision!

Your best prescription for maintaining good eye health after age forty includes:

  • Getting regular annual eye examinations by an ophthalmologist

  • Eating a healthy diet, including your full daily nutritional requirements

  • Noticing and reporting to your doctor or ophthalmologist vision changes such as reduced night vision, clouded or blurry vision, bright flashes in your peripheral vision, or changes in your perception of color

  • Wearing good UV-resistant eye protection while outdoors

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