June 16, 2024

Have you seen your eye doctor lately? They can spot vision problems, eye diseases and even issues with your overall health.

When you’re thinking about ways to take care of your health this year, don’t forget your eyes. As people age, their eyesight may not be as sharp, even with glasses.1 It may be harder to see things that are close up or far away. Older adults may also have trouble telling colors apart and adjusting to changes in light.1  

In fact, research shows that more than 1 in 4 people ages 71 and older have some sort of vision problem.2 And that can lead to all sorts of other health-related issues, including falls, accidents while driving and even depression. 

Regular eye exams can keep your vision sharp. The National Eye Institute recommends a dilated eye exam every one to two years for everyone ages 60 and older.3 Eye doctors (ophthalmologists or optometrists) can catch early signs of eye diseases, when they’re easier to treat. These include problems such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.4 

But that’s not all. A comprehensive eye exam can also spot signs of overall health problems such as high blood pressure.5   

Here are four ways that scheduling an eye exam pronto may help safeguard the health of your eyes and body. 

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An eye doctor can detect “silent” eye conditions  

Roughly 3 million Americans have glaucoma, a group of eye diseases that damages the nerve at the back of the eye, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.6 But half don’t even know it. That’s because glaucoma in its earliest stages often has no symptoms.7 

Anyone can develop glaucoma. But one big risk factor is age. People over 60 are at higher risk, especially if they are Hispanic or Latino.7 So are African American people over the age of 40.6  

Left untreated, glaucoma can gradually steal your eyesight. There’s no cure for the disease either. But an eye doctor can spot it early on with a few simple tests. 

During a checkup, your doctor will test the pressure of your eye. They’ll also dilate (widen) the pupils using eye drops.3 This allows them to peer into the back of the eye and see if there’s any damage to the optic nerve or retina, explains Karin Underkoffler, OD. She’s an optometrist with Optum in Westborough, Massachusetts. The most common treatment for glaucoma is prescription eye drops.7 

Another eye condition that affects older adults is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is the central part of the retina that lets you clearly see things straight ahead. AMD is  the leading cause of problems with reading and other close-up work for people ages 65 and older.8 

Like glaucoma, AMD has no symptoms early on.8 But an eye doctor can check whether the macula is thinning and if there are new blood vessels growing underneath it. Both can lead to AMD. 

An eye doctor can spot signs of chronic diseases 

During the exam, your doctor gets a direct view of the blood vessels in the back of your eye, says Dr. Underkoffler. If there is any bleeding, they’ll be able to see it. “It can be quite telling about your health,” she says. 

High blood pressure and diabetes can damage blood vessels all over the body, including the tinier ones in the back of your eyes.5, 9 So, if an eye doctor notices there is blood leaking from the veins, they can sometimes be the first one to diagnose these conditions.  

Even if your primary care doctor diagnosed you with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure first, an eye doctor can monitor your eyes to see how well your condition is being controlled. So, be sure to give your eye doctor a complete health history.  

That’s the beauty of having a network of primary care doctors and eye specialists at Optum. They can coordinate care to keep your eyes and body healthy as you age. 

Your eye doctor may also monitor medication side effects 

If you have been diagnosed with a health condition, such as an autoimmune disease, your eye doctor will want to know what medications you’re taking to manage it, notes Jeffrey Underkoffler, OD. He’s an optometrist with Optum in Worcester, Massachusetts (and Karin Underkoffler’s husband).  

“There are many medications that can cause eye complications, and so we need to watch to ensure there are no vision changes associated taking them,” he says. “This is another time we work together with a patient’s primary care doctor to assist in managing good eye health.” 

Looking for more great tips that can help you live your healthiest life? Sign up for our Optum newsletter today. 

Your eye doctor can suggest lifestyle changes 

It’s important not to take your vision for granted. And there are habits within your control that can help your eyes stay healthier as you age. Your eye doctor might suggest lifestyle changes you can make on your own. These include:10 

  • Eat plenty of vegetables, including leafy greens such as kale and spinach. And eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon. 
  • Quit smoking cigarettes (it can harm your eyes).  
  • Wear sunglasses and a brimmed hat when you’re outdoors, since ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes. 
  • When you’re working on your computer, give your eyes a break every 20 minutes or so to prevent eyestrain. 

If you haven’t had your eyes checked lately, ask your Optum provider if it’s time to get an appointment on the schedule. Don’t wait until you have problems with vision to see an eye doctor. Instead, make eye exams a regular habit. Your Optum health care team can help you do that. 

Sources

  1. National Institute on Aging. Aging and your eyes. Last reviewed July 28, 2021. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  2. JAMA Ophthalmology. Population prevalence of vision impairment in U.S. adults 71 years and older. Published January 12, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  3. National Eye Institute. Get a dilated eye exam. Last updated May 19, 2021. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  4. Senior vision: Over 60 years of age. American Optometric Association. Accessed January 29, 2024.  
  5. 20 surprising health problems an eye exam can catch. American Academy of  Ophthalmology. Published January 19, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  6. Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight! Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed November 24, 2020. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  7. Glaucoma. National Eye Institute. Last updated November 15, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  8. Common eye disorders and diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last reviewed August 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Keep an eye on your vision health. Last reviewed October 1, 2020. Accessed January 29, 2024. 
  10. National Eye Institute. Keep your eyes healthy. Last updated May 19, 2021.  

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