When should you be concerned?
You probably know at least one person who as they got older, needed glasses in order to be able to see. How often should you have your vision checked? Vision changes are a normal part of aging, right? Yes, some vision changes are, but not all. Do you know the difference between normal changes and medical emergency?
Vision changes can occur for a variety of reasons. Depending on the symptoms that you have, you’ll be able to tell what condition you have. Presbyopia is difficulty focusing on objects that are close and becomes noticeable in your early to mid-40s. This is a normal change in vision and happens gradually over time. Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain is when you have eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck/shoulder pain caused by poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, improper viewing distances, poor seating posture, uncorrected vision problems or a combination of these factors. Astigmatismis a common vision problem caused by the cornea (clear front cover of the eye) being irregularly shaped causing blurred vision. It is usually hereditary and is often present from birth. It can improve or worsen over time. Keratoconus is when the cornea becomes thin and cone shaped causing vision distortion. It often appears in the late teens or early 20s. Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an infection of the outer part of the eye (Conjunctiva). It will cause a gritty feeling, itching/burning, excessive tearing, discharge from the eye, swollen eyelids, increased sensitivity to light and pink discoloration to sclera (whites of the eyes). It is caused by either a virus or bacteria and can be highly contagious.Cataracts is a cloudiness that develops over the eye lens causing poor nighttime vision, halos around lights and sensitivity to glare. This is common in elderly people and develops over time. Glaucoma is caused by an increase in pressure within the eye. It develops over time and is painless, but causes poor night vision, blind spots and loss of vision on either side. If these symptoms develop suddenly, then it is a medical emergency. Macular Degeneration is the loss of central vision and causes blurred vision (especially when reading), distorted vision (straight lines will appear wavy) and colors look faded. It is the most common cause of blindness in people over 60. Retinal Detachment is when the retina (back part of the inner eye) pulls away from its normal position and causes sparks/flashes of light, floaters (looks like tiny particles that are drifting inside the eye) and a sudden sensation of a shade/curtain hanging across part of your visual field. This is a medical emergency and should be evaluated immediately. Optic Neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve from infection or Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and causes pain when moving the eye or touching the eye through the eyelid. Temporal Arteritis is the inflammation of the artery in the brain that supplies blood to the optic nerve and cause similar symptoms to Optic Neuritis. Migraine headaches can cause spots of light, halos or zigzag patterns that appear before the start of the headache. Other serious conditions that can affect your vision are bleeding into the interior cavity of the eye (symptoms will be similar to retinal detachment), eye injuries, stroke or TIA, brain tumors, Diabetes, or certain medications.
There are numerous eye conditions with some being more serious than others. So, when do you need to go the Emergency Room or go to your doctor? If you are having partial/complete blindness in one or both eyes (even if it is only temporary), double vision (even if it is only temporary), sensation of a shade being pulled over your eyes or a curtain being drawn from the side/above/below, blind spots/halos around lights, areas of distortion suddenly appear, or sudden blurred vision with eye pain (especially if the eye is red), then you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. If you are having trouble seeing objects on either side, difficulty seeing at night or while reading, gradual loss of sharpness of your vision, difficulty telling colors apart, blurred vision when trying to view objects near or far, Diabetes or family history of Diabetes, eye itching or discharge, or vision changes that seem related to medication (do not stop or change any medication without talking to your doctor), then you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Now that you know what you should be monitoring for and where to go for treatment, what can you do to help prevent eye problems? There are several things that you can do, such as wearing sunglasses while outside, wearing safety glasses when needed, keep prescription lenses up to date, don’t smoke, limit amount of alcohol, maintain healthy weight, keep blood pressure and cholesterol within normal limits, keep blood sugar within normal limits (especially if you have Diabetes), and eat antioxidant rich foods (like green, leafy vegetables). Some other things you can do are to have plenty of light while reading and when you electronic devices, remember the 20-20-20 rule. The rule is for every 20 minutes looking at a screen take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away. This allows your eyes the ability to focus on something farther away and will help prevent eye strain. Please see Fast Facts for a quick reference guide of what you can do to help prevent vision changes. It is also recommended to have regular eye exams once a year once you are over the age of 65. Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings.
Vision changes can be a normal part of aging or a medical emergency, but now you know the basics to know when to seek help and what you can do to help prevent vision changes. If you have any questions, please talk to your doctor. If you would like further information, please visit the American Optometric Association at http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public?sso=y