About eye health
Vision disorders are increasingly common in Australia. In the ten years from 2007, short-sightedness (myopia) increased from 22% to 25% of the population and long-sightedness (hyperopia) rose from 25% to 28%.
Vision loss becomes increasingly common with age: 93% of people aged 55 and over suffer some form of loss, compared to just 12% of children under the age of 15.
A significant number of people suffer from more serious age-related degenerative eye conditions, including cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, which can lead to vision loss.
According to Glaucoma Australia, the best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to have your eyes tested.
Top tips for keeping your eyes healthy
- Always wear sunglasses outdoors in sunlight to protect your eyes from UV light. You may not
realise it, but your eyes can get sunburn and suffer UV damage.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handling contact lenses.
- Avoid looking directly at the sun.
- Avoid rubbing or scratching your eyes.
- Eat a healthy diet full of antioxidants (such as leafy green vegetables).
- Use eye protection when doing DIY or in work environments
where there’s a risk of getting something in your eye.
- Never wash contact lenses in tap water, saliva, detergent, soap or household disinfectant. Use the
solution provided for your type of contact lens. Poor lens hygiene can cause eye infections.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking has been linked to macular degeneration and can also cause cardiovascular
disease, which may affect the health of your eyes.
- Have regular eye check-ups, at least every two years.
These are usually harmless specks or squiggly like strands, that float across your vision, caused by changes to the vitreous (jelly-like substance) inside your eye. They sometimes move rapidly if you try to focus on them. Surgery or laser treatment is possible if floaters are bothering you.
Seek help if floaters suddenly appear, become more numerous, or if they’re accompanied by flashing light or patches of darkness in your vision. Read more about eye floaters.
Dry eye syndrome
This is a common condition – often age-related – that can make your eyes sore and your vision blurred. It happens when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or enough of the oily substance that stops tears evaporating. Ironically, dry eye syndrome can make your vision look watery. You might also notice your eyes feel gritty or scratchy.
Women are more likely to suffer from dry eye syndrome than men, and it’s more common the older you get. It’s also increasingly common in people who spend a lot of time looking at screens.
Your optician can diagnose dry eye syndrome and suggest a range of drops, ointments or sprays for treatment.
Many activities can cause eye strain, which usually goes away when you give your eyes a chance to rest. Too long spent reading, driving, watching computer screens, straining to see in poor light or bright light, or not wearing glasses when you should, can all cause eye strain.
Symptoms can include blurred vision, soreness, headaches and tired itchy eyes.
Take regular breaks from any prolonged activity that might strain your eyes. Try adjusting the lighting, turn down air conditioning and use a humidifier to increase moisture in the air. Rest is the best treatment, especially if you can link the strain to a particular activity.
If you experience any of those symptoms without an obvious cause, see your optician or your GP.
Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in adults throughout the world. They’re generally (but not always) age-related and caused by hardening of the lens inside your eye, which makes your vision cloudy or blurred. Cataracts can also make you more sensitive to light and may make you see double.
Cataracts can occur in one or both eyes.
You’re more at risk of developing cataracts if you:
- have a family history of cataracts
- have diabetes
- spend a lot of time in the sun without adequate eye protection
- have a history of eye injury
Most people have some degree of cataracts by the time they are 90.
In most cases, cataracts can be treated successfully with a simple surgical procedure, done under local anaesthetic.
Glaucoma is deterioration of the optic nerve that results in a gradual loss of sight. The condition can lead to tunnel vision or blindness if left untreated. Glaucoma is more common in older people, but it can occur at any age. There is no cure, but early detection and treatment can halt or slow progression.
Most people with glaucoma experience few, if any, symptoms before their eyesight is damaged. You can lose a significant amount of peripheral vision before you become aware of the problem. According to Glaucoma Australia, around 300,000 Australians have glaucoma, and 50% of people with the condition don’t know they’ve got it.
You are ten times more likely to develop glaucoma if you have a close relative with the condition.
Statistics from Glaucoma Australia show one in 10,000 babies are born with glaucoma, one in 200 Australians have it by the age of 40, and one in 8 by the age of 80.
You’re more at risk if you:
- have a close relative with glaucoma
- are over 40
- are of African or Asian descent and over 40
- have high blood pressure
- are very long-sighted or very short-sighted
- suffer migraine headaches
- have diabetes
- use steroid medications over a prolonged period
Any vision loss can’t be reversed but glaucoma, once detected, can be managed through drops, medication or laser surgery.
Make sure you see your optometrist for regular eye tests. Early detection is vital.
If you need vision correction, and you have Extras or package cover, you may like to visit an optometrist from the Choice Network. That way you can access benefits of up to 100% for certain optical frames, lenses and contact lenses, up to your overall and available limits.
Age-related macular degeneration
As the name suggests, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with ageing. AMD affects central vision, creating blind spots or distorting or darkening certain patches of vision. AMD doesn’t improve with prescription glasses and it makes driving, reading or seeing faces more difficult.
According to the Macular Disease Foundation, one in seven Australians over the age of 50 have some evidence of the disease. People with a direct family history have a 50% chance of developing AMD. People who smoke are three to four times more likely to develop the disease.
You’re more at risk if:
- you’re over 50
- you have a family history of AMD
- you smoke
AMD can progress slowly or rapidly, with gradual or sudden loss of vision. Like glaucoma, there are often no symptoms in the early stages of the disease.
Treatment depends on the type of age-related macular degeneration.
Wet AMD can be stabilised by combining regular injections of a variety of drugs with daily self-monitoring. Laser therapy is also an option. Dry AMD currently has no medical treatment.
Stopping smoking, regular exercise and a healthy diet can all help eye health and reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration. You can read more about nutrition for eye health on the Macular Disease Foundation website.
As with so many other conditions, early detection can help limit vision loss. Have your eyes checked regularly and see your GP or eye health professional immediately if you experience any sudden loss of vision.
People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are at risk of diabetic retinopathy, a disease caused by diabetes that damages the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye.
The longer you have diabetes, the more likely it is that you’ll develop diabetic retinopathy.
You’re more at risk if:
- your diabetes isn’t well controlled
- you have high blood pressure
- you have high cholesterol
Diabetic retinopathy has few if any symptoms in the early stages. When symptoms do appear, they can include blurred or distorted vision, sensitivity to bright light, trouble seeing at night, difficulty reading or watching television and problems balancing.
Treatment with lasers can stop blood vessels leaking and stop abnormal blood vessels growing. Other forms of surgery may be necessary in more advanced cases.
As with so many other forms of eye disease, regular check-ups are vital to detect and manage diabetic retinopathy.
Health Direct has a handy symptom checker for eye and vision problems.
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