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Protecting your eyes for healthy aging

Protecting Your Eyes for Healthy Aging

Al Waller: A survey sponsored by the National Eye Institute found that seventy-one percent of respondents reported that a loss of their eyesight would rate as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, meaning that it would have the greatest impact on their day-to-day life. However, another survey published by The Harris Poll found that less than 1 in 5 (19%) were able to correctly identify the three main causes of blindness—glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic eye disease.

Your eyes play a critical role in your health. So it's reassuring to know that a variety of measures can be taken to ensure your eyes are protected and remain as healthy as possible.

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With us today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for Transamerica Institute, and she is here to offer actionable ways to help protect your eyes and preserve your vision.

I’d like to remind you that if you have any topic ideas you’d like to hear about, please reach out to [email protected].

Well, Mihaela, good to have you here.

Mihaela Vincze: Hi Al! It is a pleasure to be back.

Al Waller: Can you start us out with some background on the importance of taking care of our vision?

Mihaela Vincze: Our vision is very important to our overall health. It allows us to do many things, like tread around things, see street signs, and read fine print. The National Eye Institute projects that in the years between 2010 and 2050, the number of individuals affected by common eye diseases — including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy— “will double.” Early treatment is critical to prevent some of these eye diseases from causing permanent vision loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Al Waller: Eye disease doubling is unbelievable! While many of us are accepting of the fact that as we age, our eyesight will worsen, I have to believe there are some steps we could and should take to improve our vision, protect our sight, and prevent many of the diseases that compromise the health of our eyes, right?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, you are absolutely right. There are a few things we can do to benefit our eye health, as well as protect our vision.

Al Waller: That’s encouraging. Perhaps you could start us off with some steps people can take to benefit and protect their eye health.

Mihaela Vincze: The first thing I want to touch on is just getting regular eye exams. Eye diseases can easily go unnoticed, since lots of vision issues actually don’t show signs or symptoms. So, that’s why it is very important to see an optometrist or ophthalmologist for regular checkups. Although your vision may appear to be healthy to you, there is no way to be certain, unless a trained professional observes your eyes.

Al Waller: I couldn’t agree with you more. What should someone expect to have occur during an eye exam?

Mihaela Vincze: So, there's a few different types of exams, but one of them is the measurement of your visual acuity to see if you need corrective lenses, according to Mayo Clinic. This is that exam where you stand a certain number of feet away from a chart and you try to read off of it.

Then there is a dilated eye exam, which is a different type of exam that is necessary to find eye diseases in early stages when treatment is most effective, according to the National Eye Institute. During this type of examination, drops are put into your eyes to make your pupils larger, so your doctor can see inside. The doctors should look for things like visual acuity, eye alignment, eye movement, and depth perception. In terms of how often these exams should take place, you want to talk to your doctor – because it does vary from person to person.

Al Waller: I would suspect that the older you are, you're probably expected to be checked a little bit more often, say than a healthy younger adult. So, what other ways can we go about to protect our eye health?

Mihaela Vincze: You really want to be privy to your family history and you want to be able to share this information with your ophthalmologist— because this can really be a lifesaving thing to do. Many hereditary eye diseases won't show symptoms until later on in life, according to an article published in the American Academy of Ophthalmology. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, actually, genetic studies have suggested that more than 50 percent of glaucoma is familial. The more you know about your family history about eye diseases—the more you can share with your doctor, the better the outcomes for diagnosis and treatment may be.

Al Waller: I can speak to that on a personal level because our family has a documented history of glaucoma, and it's really critical to know and share these details as it may save your site.

Are there common symptoms out there that may be indicative of an eye emergency?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, visit an emergency room or urgent care center if there is an injury to your eye, or if you have swelling, bleeding, pain, or sudden vision loss. Another medical emergency called retinol detachment also increases as you age. It is a condition that’s usually painless, but it can threaten your vision if not treated promptly, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Al Waller: If it's painless, you need to be aware of that. I hadn't thought about that before.

Could you shed some light on the symptoms of retinal detachment?

Mihaela Vincze: Detached retina symptoms include sudden eye floaters, flashes of light, or darkening of your vision, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Get care right away if you notice these, since your vision can be permanently damaged if you wait.

Al Waller: Agreed. As we're talking on the topic of getting medical care, what measures can people take to make their vision care affordable?

Mihaela Vincze: A vision coverage health plan is a great option. Vision coverage helps pay for vision care, like glasses and eye exams, which can really add up. If your health plan does not cover vision, you can buy a “stand-alone” vision plan to help reduce your vision related care expenses. You can search for plans online or use the services of an insurance agent. Lastly, I want to touch on some national programs, like EyeCare America and New Eyes, for people with limited incomes.

Al Waller: That’s great intel for those seeking ways to make their vision care more affordable. The pricing of these is typically pretty affordable. So, it's certainly something that somebody ought to look into even if it's not being offered to them. What is your next tip for listeners?

Mihaela Vincze: Wear sunglasses. A report by the Vision Council in 2016 revealed that while 75% of people in the U.S. were concerned about eye issues that may arise from UV rays, only 31 percent protect their eyes with sunglasses when they went outside. Whether you are heading to the beach, spending the day snowboarding, or hiking up a mountain, try to protect your eyes and wear the appropriate sunglasses, which are those that block 100 percent UVA and UVB radiation.

Al Waller: Sounds like I can check that box – I might add that I'm glad to know my shades I have been sporting are more than just a fashion statement. Anything else, you'd like to share on the topic?

Mihaela Vincze: If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time focusing on a screen, such as a smartphone or computer screen, your eyes can get fatigued. For these individuals, try the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eyestrain: every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds.

Also, because we are talking about eye strain, I’d like to touch on blue light glasses–a study published in the National Library of Medicine determined there was little evidence to support the use of blue-blocking filters in glasses in the prevention of digital eye strain.

Al Waller: That's Interesting. The 20-20-20 – I'm going to be jotting that down and using that because I probably spend way too much time on a screen. I'm also glad to know I didn't race out on that fad and jump on the bandwagon and pick up those blue light glasses that you're talking about. Okay–well, any final thoughts before we call it a day?

Mihaela Vincze: There are certain lifestyle habits that we can develop to help our eye health. This includes eating a diet that is rich in antioxidants—like kale, spinach, or carrots – really any type of vegetable. It is also recommended that you maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking. All these factors will help you preserve your eye health, according to the CDC.

Al Waller: Great advice and good research, Mihaela.

Here's hoping you’ll join us for future episodes. If you have comments, feedback, or topic ideas, please reach out to [email protected]. And also, don’t miss our recent episodes on retirees returning to work, men’s health screenings, and financial literacy.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.