Looking after your eyes

Declining vision is almost universal in later life, so here we answer some common questions about keeping your eyes in tip-top shape
Many people worry about their eyesight deteriorating with age, and the potential for developing eye health issues. Despite these concerns, a lot of people don't visit their optician as regularly as they should. Regular eye check-ups can detect problems early and prevent them from worsening.

There is now a National Eye Health Week, which this year runs from 23-29 September. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of eye health, and its website, visionmatters.org.uk, has advice about all aspects of eye care.

If you are experiencing vision problems, you should make an appointment with an optician. Here are seven frequently asked questions about eye health and looking after your vision.

What happens during an eye examination and how much will it cost?
Feeling nervous about an eye exam is natural, especially if it's been years since your last visit. The optician or optometrist will perform several tests, but they are not painful. They include reading letters from a chart to test sharpness, examining your retina by shining a light into your eyes, and blowing a puff of air into your eyeballs to check for glaucoma. Many people are entitled to free NHS eye tests, such as those over 60 and people who have been diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma. The NHS website, nhs.uk, has further details.

What is the difference between an optician, an Optometrist and an Ophthalmologist?
Dispensing opticians fit glasses and lenses from the precriptions written by optometrists and ophthalmologists. Optometrists are trained to detect abnormalities in your eyes, such as cataracts, glaucoma or macular degeneration. They perform routine eye examinations, prescribe spectacles and can offer advice about eye care. You are most likely to be examined by an optometrist when you visit a high-street optician.

Ophthalmologists are medically qualified doctors. They deal with more complex issues and are trained to perform surgery to address serious problems.

How often should I book an appointment with an optician?
It is recommended by the NHS that you have your eyes tested every two years, even if you haven't noticed any change in your vision.

Will I need to provide details of my medical history?
Your optometrist will need to know about any other conditions that might affect your vision, including any past eye problems, allergies or conditions that run in your family. Up-to-date medical information will enable them to provide the best care.

What should I do to keep my eyes healthy?
The advice is the same as for your general wellbeing: eat a balanced diet, stay active and exercise regularly, give up smoking if you still do, and only drink alcohol in moderation. Supplements such as the Vitabiotics Visionace contain all the vitamins and minerals you need to support eye health, including vitamins A, B2, and zinc.

What can I do to prepare for my eye test?
Preparing for your eye test can help you and your optician make the most of your appointment. Discuss any habits or conditions that might affect your eyes, and bring the relevant prescriptions. Calling your optician ahead of time to see if there's anything specific you should do or bring can also be beneficial.
Where can I find advice about eye health?
Staying informed about eye health can help us to maintain good vision. The Royal National Institute of Blind People's website has plenty of advice and information (rnib.org.uk).

How ageing affects your eyes
Getting older can impact our eyes in a number of ways. The muscles in the eyelids get weaker, which can cause them to droop over the sensitive surface of the eye. This leads to more tears being produced, making the eyes look watery.

Our eyesight naturally declines as we age due to changes in the lens and a weakening of the eye muscles. Myopia (short sight), hyperopia (long sight), and presbyopia (loss of near vision) become more likely with age, which is why many older people need to start wearing glasses.

Ageing also affects the overall health of our eyes, leading to a number of common conditions. Cataracts are caused by the breakdown and clumping together of proteins in the lens, which usually starts after the age of 40, and make it less transparent. Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eyeball which can damage the optic nerve. It can affect people of any age but is most common in people over 70.

The structures at the back of the eyes, particularly the retina, which is responsible for how well we form images, are also affected by age. Older adults are more prone to developing conditions such as age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

Signs of age-related eye problems
We often don't notice declining eye health because the changes happen gradually. However, there are some obvious signs to look out for in ourselves and our loved ones.

◆ Watery or cloudy eyes

◆ Trouble recognising people we know at a distance

◆ Inability to see objects in our peripheral vision

◆ Squinting to focus on close objects, such as books or the TV

◆ Needing brighter lights for reading

◆ Blurry or hazy vision

◆ Decreased brightness of colours and increased blurriness of printed words

◆ Floaters - tiny bright specks or cobwebs that float across the field of vision

◆ Sore, dry eyes and headaches

If you experience any of these symptoms, or notice them in a friend or relative, it's important to book an eye test.
This feature first appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Lady magazine.