Good eyesight is essential not just for seeing the world around you but also for preventing falls in later life. But as we get older presbyopia, natural ageing of the eye in which the crystalline lens in the eye loses its flexibility, can make it harder to focus on close objects such as the fine print on a menu or book.
You may also be more sensitive to glare. The risk of developing sight-threatening eye conditions also increases with age. Meanwhile factors such as exposure to sunlight, smoking, poor diet and even lack of exercise can all take their toll on vision.
Regular visits to the optometrist can help keep eyes sharp and spot eye problems at an early stage.
Results from research for the College of Optometrists show that 68% of us say we value eyesight more than all our other senses. Despite this, more than a third of us leave it months before we go for an eye check – and some, (13%) go for years without having an eye test. In fact one in ten of us have never had our eyes tested.
How often should you have an eye test?
Most of us should have an eye test every two years. However, if you’re over 40, have a close relative with glaucoma, or other eye conditions, or are of African Caribbean origins, you may be more likely to have an eye condition that may not have symptoms until quite late on, such as glaucoma. Talk to your optician, giving them the relevant background information, and find out if you should have eye tests every year.
What are the benefits of more frequent eye tests?
“Regular sight checks are important for two reasons, firstly because having your vision corrected can improve the quality of day to day life. Secondly, regular eye tests can mean early detection of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), that could lead to sight loss,” explains Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical adviser to the College of Optometrists.
“An optometrist may also be able to spot the signs of some broader health conditions with symptoms that affects the eyes, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.” Treating these conditions quickly is important for your overall health, as well as for your eyesight. Optometrists may also be able to detect tumours, and new research shows that they may be able to detect the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
What do optometrists do?
Optometrists – who used to be known as ophthalmic opticians - are trained to examine your eyes and diagnose vision problems, eye diseases and other conditions, to prescribe glasses and contact lenses as well as medications for common eye conditions.
What does an eye test involve?
There’s a lot more to eye tests these days than simply reading the alphabet chart and you can expect to have a battery of checks. The exact ones will depend on your individual needs. These include tests for visual acuity, the shape, size and function of your pupils and muscle movement.
Many eye examinations now include digital retinal photography, a snapshot of the back of your eye, which gives a clear picture of eye health as well as indicating the presence of conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
You can expect to have the pressure inside your eye tested (intraocular pressure or IOP) using a special instrument called a tonometer and an examination with ‘slit lamp’, or illuminated microscope, to check the health of the outer surface of your eye.
What are optometrists looking for in an eye health check?
The optometrist is looking for specific eye problems including three of the leading causes of sight loss: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, which affects the optic nerve and cataracts, the cause of 26 per cent of cases of sight loss in people aged 75+.
Other conditions they will be on the lookout for include keraconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye syndrome), the most common cause of eye irritation in people aged 65 plus, and floaters (little dots and tadpole like shapes) usually caused by general wear and tear but occasionally an early warning of a detached retina.
Can I get an eye test for free?
More than 30 million people in the UK are entitled to free eye examinations on the NHS. These include:
- Those aged 60 and over or under 16
- People with diabetes
- Those over 40 with a close relative with glaucoma
- People on a low income (such as receiving income support, Jobseeker's Allowance)
- Anyone registered blind or partially-sighted
- In need of complex lenses
- Anyone who lives in Scotland
Tips for looking after your eyesight
Looking after your eyes is important at any age, in the same way that you should look after your physical health. These tips, from Dr Susan Blakeney, contain good eye health advice for anyone from 0 to 95.
- Quit smoking. Current smokers are significantly more likely to develop AMD, a major cause of blindness, than those who have given up, or who have never smoked.
- Eat well. Being obese increases the risk of developing AMD, so watch your weight. And a diet rich in coloured fruit and vegetables (kale, broccoli and mangoes, for instance) may reduce your risk of developing AMD.
- Ask the family. Check with your relatives if glaucoma, or other inherited eye conditions run in your family. If they do, it’s vital that you have regular sight tests.
- Wear sunglasses when it’s bright. Ultra violet exposure can damage your eyes, and this can build up over time. Look for the safety standard BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013, or the CE mark to show that the glasses meet European Safety Standards.
- Keep fit and safe. Regular exercise is essential to stay fit and healthy, but if you’re playing sports such as squash, wear protective eye wear to protect your eyes from a flying ball.
Not being able to see as well as you could, combined with the loss of muscle tone and balance that can come with age, and with conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s disease can put you at greater risk of tripping and/or falling. Annually about 250,000 people aged 65 and over had to be treated in hospital following a fall.
Tips for preventing falls
- To help prevent falls, make sure you have good lighting, where you need it, and turn the lights on when it gets dark.
- Ensure that your carpets are well fitted, and don’t have bumps or creases in them.
- Don’t put rugs down on slippery floors, and always wear well-fitting shoes.
College of Optometrists - www.college-optometrists.org
Look after your eyes - lookafteryoureyes.org
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