Our eyes do a lot for us. They take in the world and allow us to process beautiful sights and important information. Unfortunately, it’s often not until a noticeable problem occurs that we realize how precious our vision is.
Keeping your eyes healthy and vision sharp is an integral part of overall health. Dean McGee Eye Institute’s (DMEI’s) Dr. Jean R. Hausheer (Lawton Office) and Dr. Tasha J. Schellenberg (NW OKC Office) discuss some of the underlying causes of worsening vision and what can be done preventively to maintain healthy eyes.
Determining the Cause of Worsening Vision
Getting to the root of vision problems involves a bit of Q&A and basic examination.
“When we are evaluating a patient who reports worsening eyesight, several things could be the potential cause,” Dr. Hausheer says.
Typically, doctors determine if worsened vision is in both eyes or just one. Causes can vary if one eye is involved versus both.
“Our approach begins by going over the patient’s medical and surgical history, which helps us better understand the general health of the patient,” says Dr. Hausheer.
Sometimes, it’s a simple, non-serious change in vision like near or farsightedness or astigmatism. Doctors measure vision in each eye and evaluate if a patient’s refractive error has changed or not. The refractive error is used to determine the strength and type of a patient’s glasses or contact prescription.
A retinoscopy also tests a patient’s red reflex, which is the reddish-looking reflection of light from the back of the eye. This can reveal if a more serious problem is present. Sometimes, blurriness or an opacity in the eye’s visual axis can be seen when examining the red reflex. This could indicate a cataract, scar tissue, or an infection.
After going over the basics, Dr. Hausheer says new glasses can be prescribed and/or recommendations are made for further testing to see if a patient is experiencing conditions like macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease, lazy eye, retinal detachment, cataracts, or glaucoma.
Recommendations are based on factors like age, medical history, family history, reported symptoms, and whether or not vision loss is occurring in peripheral vision or elsewhere in the eye.
Healthy Vision and Aging
Some conditions that cause worsening vision come with age. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are both eye diseases linked with age. Genetics and family history can also increase the likelihood of these developing. Cataracts, a very common condition, also affects eyesight with age.
“Vision can worsen due to a number of different things,” Dr. Schellenberg says. “One of the most common is the development of cataracts as a person ages. A cataract is a change in the eye’s lens. The lens becomes cloudy and more difficult to see through. Every person develops cataracts if they live long enough.”
Women can be at higher risk for developing glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts. One factor is that women typically live longer than men. Women also are more likely to develop autoimmune conditions, undergo chemotherapy, and have hormonal changes, all of which increase the risk of developing eye dieses.
Other Causes of Worsening Vision
“Another common cause of worsening vision is ocular surface dryness,” Dr. Schellenberg says. “Eyes are designed to see best if they have a stable tear film. Without a healthy tear film, vision can be hazy or filmy.”
Tear film consists of water, oil, and mucus. In dry, windy climates eyes can lose this protective layer and become very dry. It is also common for those suffering from seasonal allergies to have dry, irritated eyes. Menopausal and pre-menopausal women also may experience dry eyes due to hormonal changes. Fortunately, there are treatments available, like Lipi-flow®, to help hydrate and provide comfort to patients with chronic dry eye.
Healthy Vision for Life
Some lifestyle choices can help prevent eye damage and help keep your vision healthy.
“Environment and lifestyle can affect vision,” Dr. Schellenberg says. “Smoking has been strongly linked to the development of age-related macular degeneration. Smoking also speeds the development of cataracts and increases ocular surface dryness.”
In addition, both Drs. Hausheer and Schellenberg recommend wearing proper protective eyewear during sports and in hazardous workplace environments. Sunglasses are also recommended for keeping damaging UV rays away from eyes. It also important to not share eye makeup with others and to completely remove any eye makeup at the end of the day to prevent infection.
Overall healthy living, regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking, and control of chronic conditions can help overall ocular health. Regular eye exams as recommended by your doctor can also help keep tabs on your eyes’ health and level of vision.
Maintain Your Vision with DMEI
Dr. Schellenberg is happy to provide patients care and keep their vision healthy.
“I’m extremely blessed to be a part of the DMEI family,” Dr. Schellenberg says. “We pride ourselves on being able to take care of any ocular need…It’s a pleasure to be able to get any patient the care they need without having to send the patient to another state.”
Dr. Hausheer, who is also a clinical professor at DMEI, enjoys the family-like atmosphere and the Institute’s dedication to patients and education.