With time, comes age—it’s something no one can deny, no matter how hard we may try. Our vision is crucial to how we learn as children, and as we age, we become more susceptible to certain eye diseases, which contribute to blurred vision, low vision, or even the loss of vision. There are warning signs to watch for, along with life-long practices to help maintain the health of your eyes, at any age.

Early Development

Did you know about 80% of what children learn is through their eyes? Healthy eyes are vital to children’s physical, mental, and emotional development. If a child’s vision problem continues to go undetected as they begin school, it can negatively impact their development. As a baby and toddler, watch for warning signs of vision problems, like excessive tearing, constant eye turning, extreme sensitivity to light, disinterest in objects around them, and squinting. Most importantly, schedule your child’s first comprehensive vision exam at about six months of age.

As We Grow

Depending on the individual’s eyes, young adults can typically manage their vision problems with the right pair of glasses or contacts. For those who need vision correction, it’s especially important to keep any vision prescriptions up-to-date by visiting a VSP provider at least once a year for an eye exam.

Visual strain and eye injuries are two main culprits for vision problems during this stage of life. It’s important to discuss any occupational hazards with a VSP provider, such as an industrial work environment or long hours in front of the computer, to help combat signs of age.

Also, it’s especially important to avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and UV rays, to help prevent your risk of eye disease. One study found that smoking is also directly associated with eye disease, about 25% of all age-related macular degeneration (AMD) cases. AMD has also been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and hereditary.

With Age

While it depends on the individual’s genetics and lifestyle, many people begin to experience vision difficulties while in their 40s and 50s. A common issue is Presbyopia—a decline in the ability to focus due to the hardening of the lenses in your eye, or in other words, farsightedness due to age—which make it difficult to see up close. Other conditions, like glaucoma, cataracts, and AMD become more common in this age range as well.

According to the National Eye Institute, AMD affects 2 million people and is a leading cause of vision loss in the US, and aging is the biggest culprit. Most people don’t realize they have AMD until damage has already occurred, or until their VSP provider detects it. From your 60s to your 90s, the chances of AMD advancing and causing vision loss increase from 1% to 15%.

Here are warning signs to watch for as you age:

  • Any eye pain
  • A sudden change in vision
  • Noticeable, excess glare
  • Difficulty adapting to low light levels
  • Gradual increase in haziness of your central or overall vision
  • Difficulty recognizing faces
  • A blurred or blind spot in the center of your field of vision

Additionally, individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure have a greater risk for developing vision problems. If you experience any health changes, such as a hypertension or a diabetes diagnosis, be sure to visit your eye doctor for a comprehensive exam.

These are easy ways to keep your eyes healthy for life:

  • Get an annual WellVision Exam from your VSP provider.
  • Wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection when you’re outdoors.
  • Drink the recommended amount of water each day.
  • Aim to get at least 6 hours of sleep each night, as an adult.
  • Eat eye-healthy foods and take eye vitamins.

Most importantly, pay attention to your eyes and don’t hesitate to visit a VSP provider if you have any concerns, or think you may have warning signs of a larger issue. Be sure you visit with them yearly to have your eyes examined and your prescriptions updated as needed. No matter what age you are, there are several things you can do to keep your eyes healthy and help deter eye disease.

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The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your eye care doctor or physician for actual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is the work of the attributed author and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of VSP. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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Dr. Matt Alpert is the owner and lead optometrist at Alpert Vision Care in Woodland Hills, CA.