The key to long-term eye health and clear vision is preventive care, local eye doctors say.

Routine eye care now can eliminate or delay future vision problems and possibly serve as an indicator of related health issues for those over 50.

So how often should you have an eye exam?

The answer depends on your overall eye health.

“From a screening purpose, I like to see people who are over the age of 50 at least once a year,” said Dr. R. Krishna Sanka of The Eye Centers of Racine and Kenosha, 3805 B Spring St., Suite 140, Racine, and 9916 75th St., Suite 101, Kenosha.

“If I see somebody for an exam and everything looks healthy, I’m not seeing any signs of cataracts or macular degeneration or glaucoma or dry eyes, typically, I’ll tell them come back in one or two years. And if you’re experiencing any problems, let us know right away and we’ll get you in sooner and make sure that everything is OK.”

Age-related vision issues

Glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts and dry eyes are the most frequent age-related vision issues for those over 50.

Glaucoma — a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, resulting in damage to the optic nerve and gradual loss of sight — is the leading cause of preventable blindness in the developed world, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“What makes glaucoma so dangerous is that almost everyone who has it, they don’t know it,” Dr. Sanka said. “When the pressure in the eye is higher than normal, you don’t normally feel any pain. You might say ‘my blood pressure is too high, I might feel it.’ But that’s not the same with eye pressure. There are very few cases in which the pressure in the eye is so high that it causes actual symptoms.”

Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss, affecting more than 10 million Americans — more than cataracts and glaucoma combined, according to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation.

Macular degeneration is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain.

Cataracts are a medical condition in which the lens of the eye becomes progressively opaque, resulting in blurred vision.

“We see cataracts happening in everyone over a matter of time,” Dr. Sanka said. “It’s just a matter of degree. If you are doing what you can from a diet and exercise standpoint, you still may get cataracts but maybe not for a while. It just depends from person to person.”

Dry eyes is a disease of inflammation, Dr. Sanka said. Dryness, burning, irritation, watering and itching are just some of the symptoms of dry eyes — and could be a sign of other health issues including diabetes or rheumatological diseases.

“If you have increased inflammation in your body from any of a variety of conditions, that can cause symptoms in your eyes,” Dr. Sanka said. “It’s kind of cliché to say, but in a lot of ways, the eyes are a window into the soul.”

Treatment needed

The dangers of not seeking treatment for these and other eye-related diseases are serious.

“It depends on what’s going on. but if you are having vision issues and it’s due to something potentially dangerous such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or tear or detachment of the retina, these can eventually lead to blindness, if ignored,” Dr. Sanka said.

“Seeking treatment early for these symptoms can certainly not only prevent blindness, but preserve the vision you have and hopefully improve it, too.”

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