August 13, 2019

Poor vision, discomfort and disease needn’t be inevitable. Hannah Ebelthite discovers how we can protect our eyes as we age 

Just like every other part of our body, our eyes go through various changes as the years pass. And while eyesight does tend to deteriorate and certain conditions can become more common, there’s plenty we can do to keep eyes young and healthy – to slow the rate at which issues develop, and even reverse them in some cases. Here, we look at some frequently- asked questions about ageing eyes.

Why do I need glasses as I grow older?

'Even if you’ve had 20/20 vision since childhood, there comes a time, usually around our 40s, when the lenses in our eyes naturally harden and the muscles around them lose elasticity, a condition know as presbyopia,' says Francesca Marchetti, an independent optometrist and council member for the Association of Optometrists ( As a result it becomes harder to focus on close-up objects, words in a newspaper or book and sooner or later you will need reading glasses. If you already wear glasses for distance you may need varifocals or bi-focals.

What is AMD?

'Age-related macular degeneration or AMD/MD is a gradual or sudden loss of central and detailed vision. It’s the leading cause of sight loss in the West, most common in people over 60, especially those who smoke, and more likely to affect women than men,' says consultant ophthalmologist and aesthetic oculoplastic surgeon Dr Sabrina Shah-Desai. It can be gradual (dry AMD) or sudden (wet AMD) or progress from dry to wet. Early symptoms include slightly blurred vision or straight lines appearing crooked. Protective tactics include not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, watching blood pressure, taking regular exercise, protecting eyes from UV damage and eating healthily (see below).

Smiling woman holding glasses

Cataracts: A normal part of ageing?

Cataracts are common, affecting one in three people over 65 in the UK. They happen because the lens gradually changes and becomes less transparent (clear) which over time will get worse, leading to blurred vision. A straightforward operation can remove the misty lens replacing it with an artificial one to enable you to see clearly again.

Are glaucoma tests a must?

Absolutely. 'We call glaucoma the "secret thief of sight" because it has no symptoms until the final, irreversible stages,' explains Marchetti. 'It’s a genetic condition, caused by a build-up of fluid and pressure inside the eye which, untreated, results in tunnel vision and blindness. Testing for glaucoma should be a routine part of all eye examinations. By identifying pressure changes at an early stage, the condition can be monitored and, if necessary, halted in its tracks with eye drops.'

Can diet benefit eye health?

'The most important nutrients for eye health are vitamins A (which our bodies also convert from beta-carotene in our diets), C and E, zinc, selenium and copper, as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, essential omega-3 fats (especially DHA) and the plant polyphenol resveratrol,' says dietitian Helen Bond. 'Eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables is the best way to benefit. The best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are dark green leafy veg and brightly coloured orange and yellow fruit and veg. Include oily fish, lean meat, eggs, nuts and seeds for their omega 3s and minerals.'

Can supplements help?

According to a large research study, AREDS 2, lutein and zeaxanthin have an important part to play in protecting eye health, particularly the macular, and may help reverse certain conditions such as AMD. You can find them in many multivitamin and mineral supplements or seek out a special formulation for eye health, which should also contain vitamins C, E, zinc, copper and omega 3s.

How else can I protect my eyes as they age?

'UV rays damage the delicate skin around eyes and can trigger cataracts, AMD and cancer,' says Dr Shah-Desai On sunny days wear sunglasses. Make sure they carry the CE mark and British Standard BS EN 1836:2005 for 100% UV protection.

Dry eye solutions

'While dry eye can affect anyone - and digital eye strain is a major cause - it's most common in women, contact-lens wearers and with age,' says Shah-Desai.

  • Get it checked: See your optometrist. Decreased tear production can be cause by an underlying condition, or certain medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants or HRT.
  • Double-check: Make sure you're wearing the right prescription and contact lens type
  • 20-20-20: Follow the 20-20-20 screen-time rule. Look away from your computer at least every 20 minutes and gaze at a distant object (at least 20 feet away) for at least 20 seconds.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.



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