According to the 2012 update of the "Vision Problems in the U.S." report, a study released this month by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute, the number of those ages 40 and older with vision impairment and blindness has increased 23 percent since the year 2000. The study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, provides prevalence rates and estimates cases of age-related eye conditions.
"It's all relative," says Dr. Robert Noecker of Ophthalmic Consultants in Connecticut. "The increase is also due to the population getting older and to the growing diabetes epidemic. If you live long enough, everyone is going to get cataracts."
The trick is keeping eyes healthy for as long as possible.
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"You can do a lot to delay the onset of cataracts and avoid macular degeneration and basal cell carcinoma growths on the eyelids," advises Dr. Noecker. "Most damage comes from UV light, and summertime increases the risk. Always wear sunglasses and add a hat, too."
Choosing the right sunglasses is important: "Choose large sunglasses that cover the eyeballs and skin around the eye. If you buy them at the drugstore, choose the ones that have UVA/UVB blocking stickers on them to make sure they have the correct protective coating. The tint of the lens is not so important; that's usually to do with fashion. Darker glasses are helpful for people who have sensitive eyes. It's the correct coating that's important."
The eyes have it
Dr. Noecker teaches us about unsightly common eye ailments.
Styes: "They form when the oil glands on the edge of the eyelid clog or become infected. Styes are becoming more common due to the American or Western diet. Eating more saturated fats causes the oil to thicken and not flow."
Dry eyes: "Eyes become drier with age when we produce less tears. But in the summer, eyes can dry out due to wind or dehydration. Also, if the oil glands aren't working properly, eyes dry because it's the oil spreading over the eye that keeps tears from evaporating."
Pink eye (conjunctivitis): "This is a viral infection and is more common at certain times of the year, usually winter. It's extremely contagious because the virus can live on, say, a doorknob for up to five days: That's how it spreads through families and workplaces so easily. Hygiene is key."