IN YOUR 20s
Top Problem: Digital Eye Strain
A shocking 93% of adults spend more than two hours a day using a digital device (and 37% of millennials put in at least nine hours per day), which can be bad news for healthy vision. When you're compulsively staring at your computer or your iPad, you blink half as often as usual, and that may trigger dry, itchy and even burning eyes.
Be Proactive: While using digital devices, follow the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) 20-20-20 rule to refocus your eyes and return your blink rate to normal: Every 20 minutes look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Adjust computer screens so they're an arm's length away from your face, and place anti-glare film over them. Finally, enlarge the point size on your Kindle. "Digital newspapers and books are often smaller than print versions, and thus harder on your eyes," says Rebecca Taylor, MD, spokesperson for the AAO.
Screening Guidelines: Schedule an eye exam at least once during your 20s, even if you have no vision concerns.
IN YOUR 30s
Top Problem: Dry Eye
Experts aren't sure why hormonal fluctuations (caused by everything from perimenopause to pregnancy to breastfeeding) can make your eyes go the way of the Sahara. But one cause may be estrogen receptors on your cornea that may dry out tissue and affect tear formation. Surprisingly, you could have this condition and not even realize it. "Women come in and see me for the opposite reason: They complain that by midafternoon, their eyes won't stop tearing up," says Taylor. "When your eyes get dry, they transmit a message to the brain to send down tears. But your brain often responds by sending down a temporary flash flood."
Be Proactive: If you have dry or watery eyes, blurred vision, a sense of grittiness or burning, try preservative- free OTC products like Soothe Lubricant Eye Drops or Refresh Optive Advanced Lubricant Eye Drops. Since it's the season for blasting radiators, which dry out air, crank up your humidifier too.
Finally, consider meds and diet. Dehydration and certain drugs, such as antihistamines, decongestants, birth control pills and antidepressants, can exacerbate dry eye. Research has also shown a link between the condition and not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids. Meet your quota with two to three servings of fatty fish a week or a 1,000 mg supplement twice a day, says Taylor. If your eyes still feel uncomfortable, see your eye doctor for prescription remedies. "We've started to treat dry eye more aggressively because we realize that the sooner you do, the less severe it will become," explains Christopher E. Starr, MD, associate professor of ophthalmology at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Screening Guidelines: No vision problems? You still need to see an ophthalmologist every five years during this decade. If you wear contacts or glasses, you'll require an annual visit.
IN YOUR 40s
Top Problem: Presbyopia
Are you having trouble making out the lettering on menus or getting headaches from eye strain while working at your computer? Welcome to presbyopia: blurred near vision that, like crow's-feet and an expanding waistline, usually appears as a midlife right of passage. "As you age, your eye lens starts to lose flexibility and the muscles surrounding the lens lose elasticity," explains David M. Rubaltelli, MD, an ophthalmologist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "That causes your eyes to have more difficulty focusing on close objects." About 112 million Americans have presbyopia, which is most likely to crop up in your early 40s.
Be Proactive: See your doctor as soon as you notice a change. While your blurred vision is most likely due to presbyopia, he will want to rule out other potentially vision-threatening conditions that creep up on us as we get older, like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. If it is presbyopia, you'll need reading glasses or, if you already wear specs, bifocals. Contact lens wearers can opt for bifocal lenses or try a correction method called monovision, where the dominant eye is corrected for distance and the other is corrected for near vision.
Screening Guidelines: Get a baseline eye exam at age 40. You'll need to follow up every two to four years, depending on whether or not you're experiencing any issues.
IN YOUR 50s and BEYOND
Top Problem: Glaucoma
Your risk of developing glaucoma—a disease that damages your eye's optic nerve and could lead to blindness—slowly rises as you move into your 50s and 60s. Even scarier, about half of all people with the ailment remain undiagnosed, according to the AAO. "Unlike some other age-related eye diseases, such as cataracts, glaucoma is often symptomless," explains Andrew Iwach, MD, a San Francisco ophthalmologist and AAO spokesperson. You're at increased risk if you have a family history, diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, or are African American, Asian American or Hispanic.
Be Proactive: Because glaucoma can be asymptomatic, stay on top of your screenings and make sure your doctor is giving you the right tests. Some screen by performing tonometry, which measures eye pressure, but that's not enough. "Up to 50% of people with glaucoma have normal eye pressure," explains Iwach. Request an ophthalmoscopy, in which your pupils are dilated so your doctor can examine your optic nerve for glaucoma damage. If either test is abnormal, you'll need further examination, such as visual field testing.
Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to prevent glaucoma. Some studies suggest moderate exercise may reduce your risk. More important, be sure to wear eye protection if you're playing a sport like tennis or even helping coach a kid's baseball game. A serious eye injury can cause a form of the disease known as traumatic glaucoma, says Iwach. Antihistamines have also been linked to a slightly elevated risk of one form of the disease (narrow-angle glaucoma), so talk to your eye doctor if you have a family history of glaucoma before using these meds regularly.
Screening Guidelines: Schedule an appointment with your eye doctor every two to four years if you're under 55. Frequency increases to every one to three years once you're between the ages of 55 and 64, and every one to two years if you're over 65, according to the AAO.
5 WAYS TO REDUCE THE RISK OF AGE- RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATION (AMD)
Damage to the macula, a small spot near the center of your retina, can lead to this condition, a common cause of vision loss in the U.S. Here's how to help prevent it.
1. Wear sunglasses. UV light harms your retina.2. Eat smart. Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens contain high levels of lutein, an antioxidant that prevents AMD from progressing. Eating fatty fish, such as salmon or sardines, twice a week also lowers AMD risk.3. Don't smoke. And avoid secondhand smoke. It could affect oxygen delivery to your retina.4. Lose pounds. Being overweight or obese may up your risk, perhaps by promoting inflammation in your body.5. Get moving. Research shows that people who do cardio exercise at least three times a week reduce their vulnerability.