Additional Factors Affecting Eye Health

You have more control than you may think over the health of your eyes, even apart from your lifestyle. Vision can be affected by some common health problems, by being female, by aging, and by some inherited factors. Even for conditions that your family is prone to getting, being aware of them and getting timely testing done for them can save your sight. Knowledge is the key!

General Health

Of course, you know that your eyes are a part (an important part) of your whole body. But think of the implications of that obvious statement: Not only can your vision be disrupted by several systemic diseases (diabetes and the autoimmune syndromes are the major ones), but also, poor vision is very bad for your physical and mental health. Deterioration of eyesight, particularly in seniors, often leads to poor health and even death through susceptibility to accidents such as falls. This can lead to hip fracture, especially in older women, who tend to have more fragile bones. Such victims often have very poor quality of life and are housebound or even bedridden. In addition, impaired vision is a source of social isolation, which can lead to depression.

Take care of any medical problems you may have.

For example, if you have any medical condition, take care of it. Diabetes often leads to retinopathy and cataracts; keeping diabetes under control with diet and drugs can reduce the progression of these eye effects. The autoimmune (rheumatoid) diseases often have eye symptoms that are treatable. People with diabetes or autoimmune disease—such as Sjögren’s Syndrome or multiple sclerosis—should be under the care of an eye doctor as well as a specialist in their disease. High blood pressure can cause hypertensive retinopathy; keep your blood pressure under control through diet and, if needed, by medications. Finally, there is mounting evidence that a poor lipid profile (high LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides) may be related to AMD. After consultation with your doctor, consider following his or her advice about lipid-lowering, as well as anti-hypertensive, drugs.

The other side of the coin is that taking care of your eyes, for example, by getting the proper prescription for your eyeglasses, can make your body healthier and you happier.

Good websites about health include:

Women’s Health

As greater attention is paid to women's health issues, the spotlight increasingly is turning toward non-fatal conditions—like poor vision—that decrease quality of life.

Women are intrinsically more likely to get some diseases that seriously affect the eye: dry eye syndrome and most of the autoimmune diseases. In addition, because women in the U.S., on average, live longer than men, they have a much greater prevalence of the common, serious, age-related eye diseases, specifically age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma.

There is no shortage of informative, unbiased websites on women’s health:


What can you expect will happen to your eyesight as you get older? Just as hair turns gray, eyes undergo changes as the years progress. Although many of these changes are part of normal aging, some set the stage for more serious eye problems. Most of the blind and visually impaired people in the developed world are seniors.

As eyes age, tear production drops off because of changes in the glands that produce the tear film. This can lead to, or worsen, dry eye syndrome, which causes an uncomfortable, gritty sensation in the eye.

As you grow older, the lens of the eye hardens and loses its elasticity. This makes it more difficult for you to focus on near objects, such as a book. This extremely common condition is called presbyopia, and is easily fixed by wearing either prescription bifocals or the inexpensive reading glasses you can buy in a drugstore.

Aging often also causes the lens to grow opaque. This clouding of the lens, called cataract, usually takes years to develop. At first, you may notice you need better lighting for reading or other tasks. Or the cataract may go unnoticed till the cloudiness blocks you central line of sight and impairs vision. If this occurs, the cataract can easily be cured by a simple, highly successful operation.

Age-related changes leading to blockage of the drainage system for the aqueous humor—the fluid that bathes the front parts of the eye like the iris and lens—can cause glaucoma. This is an extremely serious eye disease, but has no warning symptoms. It causes damage to the optic nerve and, left untreated, can lead to blindness. Early detection is the key to successful treatment of glaucoma. This is the main reason that people over 50 should have regular eye examinations.

Another part of the eye, the vitreous, also shows signs of wear with age. The vitreous is the clear jelly that fills the eyeball. In older people, parts of it often fragment into little clumps called floaters, which you can sometimes see as small, moving, dark spots. Floaters are usually benign, if occasionally annoying.

In addition, the vitrous often detaches from the back of the eye some time in late middle age. This is sometimes accompanied with light flashes at the sides of the eye. A vitreous detachment is not a problem in itself; however, it occasionally precipitates a tear in the retina, and fluid leaking in can cause the retina to detach from the back wall of the eye. Such a retinal detachment is accompanied by light flashes or immediate loss of part of the visual field, and requires immediate surgery if sight is to be well maintained.

Age-related macular degeneration is a very serious eye disease that destroys the important central part of vision. The older you become, especially after age 60, the more likely you are to develop this potentially blinding disease. There is fairly effective treatment available only for the “wet” form of the disease. However, low vision aids allow many AMD sufferers to retain useful sight, see “Insurance Coverage” at the end of this part of the website.

The good news is that most people never develop serious eye disease and need little more than reading glasses and better lighting as they age.

Family Background

There’s not much you can do about your genes, but you can protect yourself from the major eye diseases that you may be prone to because of your family background. If you know that an eye disease runs in your family, or that you have a close relative who has it, make sure your eye-care professional checks for early signs of the disease at your next visit. Often something can be done to prevent or slow the disease. This is particularly true for glaucoma, which has no warning signs and does its damage silently. Blacks, for unknown reasons, are particularly susceptible to glaucoma. It’s recommended that all blacks get eye checkups, through dilated pupils, at least every two years, starting at age 40; intraocular pressure should also be measured at these visits. The damage from glaucoma is mostly avoidable, if the disease is noticed early.

Many of the less-common eye diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa and juvenile macular degeneration, are inherited. If any of these conditions runs in your family, you should get your eyes, and those of your children, tested early.


Knowledge is the key to saving your sight. Be aware of the symptoms of the major eye diseases. See “Causes of Vision Loss” on this website for an introduction to them. Consult an eye-care professional if you think you have any of these symptoms; better safe than sorry. See “Checkups” on this part of the website for advice on seeing an eye doctor. Keep in mind that perhaps three-quarters of vision loss is either preventable or treatable–if the disease is diagnosed in a timely manner. These treatments include such simple things as getting new eyeglasses.

Other websites you can go to for good, general information on eye function, health, and diseases are:

Women’s Eye Health