Eyesight as we age

By Jo Hartley

4 minutes

02 September 2019

Man on jetty looking at phone

By 2020 over 800,000 Australians will be blind or have vision loss, according to Vision Initiative Australia.

While this is due to our ageing population, most vision loss is preventable or treatable, so a little bit of guidance around eye health and care can save your sight.

Specsavers optometrist, Karen Walsh, offers advice about eye health and how to maintain it as we age. 

What are the main things that affect our eye sight?

Our eyesight is determined by script and vision. Script relates to whether you’re long or short sighted and depends on the shape of your eyeball. Your vision is more complicated.

“Vision is influenced by lots of factors,” advises Walsh. “You can have no script and have really poor vision, or you can be long sighted or short sighted and still not be able to see anything.”

Walsh notes that vision is determined by the health of your eye. This includes the cornea (the transparent front part of the eye that covers the iris), pupil, anterior chamber, and the macula, which is responsible for sharp straight-ahead vision.

It also relates to the neurological pathway to your brain.

Eye health can be influenced by a number of factors including:

  • lifestyle
  • genetics
  • cardiovascular health
  • diabetes
  • blood pressure

How do our eyes change as we age?

Eyes change throughout our lives and no one person is the same. However, there are times when key changes happen for us all.  

“The critical development period for the eye and eyesight is up to seven years of age,” says Walsh. “We recommend a test between age four to seven so we can get an overview of eye health, development and function.

We need to pick up lazy eyes, a script or turned eyes before they’re embedded neurologically in the system. We always like to pick up any problems before this and we say that if it’s after age eight, it’s too late.”

Walsh notes that the next big change in the eyes happens in puberty, and if short sightedness (myopia) is going to develop, this is when it will kick in. Again, a test is recommended around this time.

Further change happens around 40 and then 60.

“At 40 we start to lose our fine detail reading vision, our ability to see small print and thread a needle,” says Walsh. “At 60 you’re more exposed to conditions like cataract, glaucoma and macular degeneration.”

Are there any physical developments that affect eyesight?

Growth and changes in the eye affect how sight develops. The primary time this happens is during childhood.

“As you grow, your eyes grow,” says Walsh. “When a child is born, they’re generally born long sighted, then through the first seven years of their life, they become less long sighted and their script heads towards zero. The script irons itself out by then if it’s going to.”

The other thing that influences eyesight is the lens changes that happen around 40.

“The crystal lens structure behind your pupil is very flexible and malleable when you’re born,’ says Walsh. “As you get older, the structure becomes less flexible and causes a decline in your reading script.

The only instance when eyesight may get better is if you’ve been short sighted your whole life so, in your 40’s, your needs differ to others because you can read without glasses.”

What treatments can improve eyesight or reduce degeneration?

While scripts can’t be amended, vision is something we can work to protect.  

“Diet and lifestyle are important,” says Walsh. “Macro and micro nutrients help maintain good eyesight and you should eat a brightly coloured diet incorporating lots of fruit and veg. Fish is also very good because it’s rich in omega 3 fatty acids, which help protect eyes from degeneration.”

Walsh adds that UV protection is important and advises on wearing sunglasses whenever outside. She also stresses the importance of taking breaks from screens and suggests applying the 20, 20, 20 rule.

“Every 20 minutes look away from the screen for 20 seconds and focus on something 20 metres away,” she says.

How often should I get my eyes checked?

Walsh notes that the best way to maintain optimum eyesight and health is through routine eye checks. Between age 40-60 she recommends having an eye check every two years. After 60 she recommends every year.

“Next year all Specsavers will have OPT machines, which will be able to take a picture of the retina of your eye and the cells as well,” says Walsh.

“With such equipment and increased knowledge, maintaining good eyesight and health is accessible to all.” 

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