OD Q&A: Top tips for eye health in middle age

Optometrists share their top tips for eye health in middle age

Maintaining eye health is important at every age, from childhood to adulthood, and throughout your senior years. Middle age is a particularly important life stage when it comes to eyes. That’s because genetics, as well as diseases such as diabetes or even excess screen time, can often play a role and impact vision. In fact, many common eye diseases don’t cause any symptoms until they’ve progressed significantly, meaning that your eye health may be changing without you noticing. The good news is that, according to the Canadian Council of the Blind, 75 percent of vision loss is preventable and treatable.

That’s why we’re passionate about informing Canadians on the importance of establishing an eyecare routine, starting with regular eye exams with an optometrist.

For patients with extended health benefits, the cost of eye exams and glasses may be covered. Despite this, according to a recent Specsavers survey, conducted by Leger in partnership with the Canadian Council of the Blind, more than half of Canadian adults who have vision health benefits didn’t plan to use them in 2023 before they expired, while 38 per cent of Canadian adults say they are overdue for an eye exam.

Dr. Stephanie Kwan and Dr. Sunaina Sond, two independent optometrists within the Specsavers network, are both strong proponents of maintaining eye health in middle age. Here, they share some of the most common eye care concerns, warning signs and the role of genetics with conditions such as glaucoma.

Is screen time affecting my eyes?

Countless people spend their days – and much of their nights – sitting in front of a computer screen. Spending so much time in front of a screen may cause digital eye strain; symptoms include eye strain, headaches, ocular discomfort, dry eye, diplopia (double vision), or blurred vision. If you are experiencing eye problems in front of a screen, it may be because you require vision correction and need to get your eyes tested, regardless of the time you spend with computers. It’s easier said than done, but remember to take regular breaks away from the screen, even if it’s only to get up and talk to a colleague instead of emailing them. You can also check that your posture and monitor are correct, and try to get into a habit of blinking regularly.

Distance is also essential when it comes to screen time. Farther from the screen is always better. Position your screen about an arm’s length from your eyes and 20 degrees below eye level. Where possible, set colour and contrast tones to suit your eyes and match the brightness of your screen with your surroundings.

Optometrists recommend the use of the 20‑20‑20 rule to give your eyes a much‑needed break. Every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

What are the warning signs of diabetic retinopathy?

The challenge with diabetic retinopathy is that it develops without noticeable symptoms. Some patients may notice vision fluctuations but often there are no apparent signs. Patients with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes must have a yearly comprehensive eye exam, so their optometrist can monitor their eye health. Technology such as OCT allows the optometrist to see the structures of the back of the eye and catch the disease in its earliest stages so treatment can prevent vision loss. Patients with diabetes in their family should share this with their optometrist.

My grandmother has glaucoma, does this mean I’ll get it too?

People with a family history of glaucoma are at greater risk of developing the condition. However, just because your grandmother has glaucoma does not mean that you will also develop the condition. It’s important to have regular eye exams, particularly as you get older, to identify any problems, should they occur, at an early stage. Make sure you mention any family history of glaucoma to your optometrist. OCT helps optometrists catch the condition earlier and also helps monitor for even slight changes that may occur over time.

Do only the elderly get cataracts?

No – although most cataracts occur in older people , cataracts can also form in much younger people. For example, those with health problems, such as diabetes, may develop cataracts when they are younger. In addition, cataracts can form because of severe trauma to the lens, which can be caused by certain medications, inflammation and injury. In rare cases a baby may be born with a cataract. This is usually due to a genetic condition , such as Down Syndrome, and corrected by replacing the cloudy lens with a new one usually without complication.

Can I stop my eyesight from changing further?

Some people believe that a specific diet and targeted eye exercises can help naturally improve eyesight. However, there is no concrete evidence supporting this and it’s best to see your optometrist regularly to identify and treat any problems early on, whether through vision correction, surgery or medication.

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