Five tips for healthy eyes

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Vision is one of the most precious gifts we have. As we get older, changes to our eyes mean our sight becomes more vulnerable. For people living with diabetes, vision loss, is one a major complication of the condition, so it important to stay on top of eye health.

Almost all of us will experience some degree of presbyopia – difficulty focusing on objects up close or reading small print. This is caused by a natural loss of elasticity in the lens of the eye. Luckily, reading glasses provide a simple solution.

But getting older also brings a risk of more serious eye conditions. If left untreated, these diseases can potentially lead to significant vision loss and blindness.

Ageing eye conditions you need to know about

Some of the most common eye issues to be aware of are:

Diabetic retinopathy. A complication of type 1 and type 2 diabetes that can damage the tiny blood vessels of the retina, the back of the eye. Diabetes is the leading cause of vision loss in working aged Australians.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is a tiny but important part of the retina, the back of the eye, which works a bit like the film in a camera. AMD can lead to loss of central vision, making it difficult to read and recognise faces.

Glaucoma. Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, the connection between the eye and the brain. This can cause gradual vision loss, usually starting with the peripheral or side vision.

Cataracts. A clouding of the lens of the eye, causing blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Almost all of us will develop cataracts by the age of 80.

The good news is, most vision loss can be prevented if caught early enough. But it’s important to know that these conditions often have no symptoms until the disease has advanced. That’s why regular check-ups with an optometrist or ophthalmologist are essential.

How to prevent vision loss

There are some simple things you can do to give yourself the best chance of protecting your sight. Our factsheet on ‘Looking After Your Eyes’ has a range of helpful tips.

Professor Robyn Guymer, an expert in eye disease and Deputy Director at the Centre for Eye Research Australia also offers these suggestions.

Get regular eye health checks

If you’re over 50 it’s recommended that you should have an eye exam once a year or every two years.

To make it easier for people with diabetes to have regular diabetes eye checks ‘KeepSight’ – a new eye check reminder program has been established.

When you register online with KeepSight, you will receive convenient regular reminders to help you remember when you need to schedule an eye check. It’s that easy!

 Don’t smoke

Smoking is a big risk factor for a number of eye diseases. In particular, it increases your risk of age-related macular degeneration. The sooner you stop smoking, the better. Talk to your GP or contact Quitline for help with quitting.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet

Good nutrition benefits your whole body, including your eyes. A balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables is important for good health.  If you’re looking for help and inspiration when it comes to your meals, check out our tips on healthy meal ideas and healthy snacks.

When it comes to the eyes, there is some evidence that dark leafy greens like spinach and silverbeet and yellow vegetables like corn may be beneficial. Omega 3 fatty acids like fish oil may also help.

Wear sun protection

Just like your skin, your eyes are vulnerable to damage from the sun. There is some evidence that too much exposure to UV light over time can increase your risk of cataracts.

Make a habit of wearing a wide-brimmed hat and good sunglasses when you go outdoors – together they can block up to 98% of UV radiation.

Monitor your vision at home

If you have early signs of AMD, you can monitor your vision with a simple test called an Amsler grid. Once a week, cover one eye and look at the grid, then swap to the other eye.

The big worry sign is distortion. If you notice any significant vision changes like wavy, distorted or blurred lines, or dark areas or ‘holes’ in the grid, that are consistently there, see your eye care professional.

Remember almost all vision loss from diabetes is preventable. By following these tips you can look after your eyes and keep them healthy for years to come.

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