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How To Improve Your Eyesight As You Age

By age 40, you may begin to notice slight changes in your eyesight that, if left untreated, can worsen. Initially, you may find yourself holding papers and menus at arm’s length to see words more clearly or needing more light to read comfortably. Maybe you’re even having difficulty driving at night because of glare.

Consult an Ophthalmologist

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Changes in eyesight are a significant health problem for older adults and can majorly affect your sense of independence and overall quality of life. Here’s what you should know about changes in vision as you age and ways to help preserve your eyesight.

Why Your Vision Changes as You Age

Many factors play a role in how well your eyes age, and each eye disorder affects different parts of the eye, which can cause changes in your eyesight. A few common age-related vision changes include:

  • Decreased visual acuity. With a decrease in visual acuity, you notice less detail in objects. It’s tested during an eye exam when you stand 20 feet from the eye chart and are asked to read a line of letters from the chart without wearing your glasses or contact lenses. You may also be asked to cover one eye at a time and read aloud the smallest letters you can see on the chart.
  • Decreases in contrast sensitivity. Simply put, your eyes are less able to detect small changes in light. Difficulty with driving at night is a common example of decreased contrast sensitivity. For this test, the examiner asks you to look at a chart with rows of letters and name the letters in ambient lighting. As the test progresses, the contrast between the letters and the background decreases so it’s harder to distinguish what’s written.
  • Diminished capacity to accommodate. To test for accommodation, the doctor has you look at a near reading card and then adds prescription lenses until the target becomes clear.
  • Heightened sensitivity to glare. While driving, you may increasingly notice glare from headlights at night or sun reflecting off windshields during the day. The scattering of the light entering your eye due to changes to your eye lens causes this intense glare.

Ways to Preserve Your Eyesight

Preventive healthcare includes taking care of your eyesight. The National Institute for Aging offers the following tips for preserving your vision.

Get Regular Eye Exams

Having problems with your eyes is common, but they can go unnoticed for a long time. A dilated eye exam is vital to finding eye problems early, which is when treatment is most effective. The recommended frequency of dilated eye exams can vary, so ask your doctor what schedule is best for you.

The National Institute for Aging suggests completing a dilated eye exam every one to two years if:

  • You’re at least 60 years old.
  • You’re African American and at least 40 years old.
  • You have a family history of glaucoma.
  • You have diabetes.
  • You have hypertension.

Testing for visual acuity, depth perception, eye alignment and eye movement are all part of this exam. After administering dilating eye drops, your eye doctor can see inside your eyes and check for signs of health problems.

Wear Protection to Block Harmful UV Radiation

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun perpetually poses a danger to your eyes. In fact, length of UV radiation exposure is linked to the risk of developing cataracts, eye cancer and macular degeneration. When spending time outdoors, wear a wide-brimmed hat and quality sunglasses that provide UV protection.

Stop Smoking

Smoking is as unhealthy for your eyes as it is for the rest of your body. It puts you at a higher risk of developing severe eye conditions that can cause vision loss or blindness. The development of cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma are strongly linked to smoking.

Pay Attention to Nutrition

Diet is an important factor that can have long-term effects on eye health. Eating a balanced diet high in fruit and green leafy vegetables—which contain carotenoids, zinc, vitamins C and E—is essential. Meanwhile, coldwater fish, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, may be protective against many age-related eye diseases.

Stay Physically Active

Researchers found participants who met physical activity guidelines—150 minutes of activity a week—had a 50% lower risk of glaucoma than those considered entirely sedentary [1] Chong Seong NT, Yaakub A, Jalil RA, et al. Effect of physical activity on severity of primary angle closure glaucoma. Ther Adv Ophthalmol. 2019;11:2515841419864855. . Moreover, people with the highest cardiovascular fitness had a 40% lower glaucoma risk than those at the lowest fitness levels. People who both met the fitness guidelines and were in the highest fitness category had the lowest risk for developing glaucoma.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

A recent study found obesity to be a risk factor for cataracts [2] Jacob L, Smith L, Koyanagi A, et al. Associations between obesity and ocular health in Spanish adults. Lifestyle Medicine. 2020;(lim2.5). . Meanwhile, additional research shows an association between morbid obesity and elevated intraocular pressure and retinopathy, increasing the risk for glaucoma [3] Teberik K, Eski MT, Doğan S, Pehlivan M, Kaya M. Ocular abnormalities in morbid obesity. Arq Bras Oftalmol. 2019;82(1):6-11. .

Carefully Manage Diabetes

Diabetic eye disease is a group of eye problems that can affect people with diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association [4] Solomon SD, Chew E, Duh EJ, et al. Diabetic retinopathy: A position statement by the American diabetes association. Diabetes Care. 2017;40(3):412-418. . These conditions include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, cataracts and glaucoma. Since diabetic retinopathy is a complication of both type 1 and 2 diabetes, it’s vital to keep blood glucose levels under control—the prevalence of diabetic retinopathy depends on how long you’ve had diabetes and how well you control your glucose levels.

Keep an Eye on Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure causes damage to blood vessels in the retina. The severity of the damage depends on the blood pressure measurement and the length of time it’s elevated. Your risk of damage and vision loss increases if you have high cholesterol—poor blood flow causes damage to the nerves and blockage of the arteries and veins.

Rest Your Eyes

Are you looking at a screen for all or part of your day in this digital age? The American Association of Ophthalmology recommends taking regular breaks by using the “20-20-20” rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This practice can help reduce eye strain.

“To keep eyes healthy, the same things that keep the rest of you healthy work best,” says Sebastian Heersink, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Eye Center South in Dothan, Alabama. “Eat well, avoid smoking, get exercise, wear sunglasses (and safety glasses) and learn your family medical and eye history so you and your eye doctor can proactively care for your eyes during your regular eye visits.”

Find an Ophthalmologist Near You

Zocdoc helps you find and book top-rated doctors, on demand. Visit them in their offices, or video chat with them from home. Check out the ophthalmologists in your area.

Why Using THC Is Good for the Eyes

These days the list of illnesses that cannabis medicines can be used for grows every day, with research studies being done left and right to test its efficacy against different symptoms and disorders. Most attention is focused on CBD because of its lack of psychoactive effects, while THC is often left out. However, it was found early on that THC is good for the eyes, and has been used to treat conditions like glaucoma for decades.

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Medical cannabis back in the day

Before getting into the restart of medical cannabis in more recent decades, let’s go over some facts about the use of cannabis in medicine. Essentially, it’s been used in medicine for thousands of years, long before it was co-opted by Western medicine in the 1800’s, and then re-introduced once again after a period of enforced illegalization. It’s a part of two of the oldest medicinal traditions, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, both of which have multiple applications for the use of cannabis to treat tons of different ailments. It has been used in many other lesser-known medical traditions as well.

Prior to it being scheduled as a narcotic by the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances which forced a global illegalization, cannabis was being used in all types of Western medicine applications. In fact, it was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850, but dropped from there in 1937 following the Marijuana Tax act. Before the laws changed, it could be found in tons of products, for almost anything. Most people, of course, had no real understanding of this, but it does show that cannabis was being used very heavily in the world of medicine. Considering how many countries were forced into illegalizing the plant, this was not confined to just the US.

Cannabis has existed medicinally in essentially three stages. The first was everything up until the 1800’s when it was used in natural medicine traditions. The second stage was the original co-opting of the drug into Western medicine, and the third is the reintroduction back into Western medicine more recently.

It entered Western medicine for the first time in around 1842 when the Irish researcher Dr. William O’Shaughnessy published Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia which included an entire 25 pages devoted to cannabis use in medicine. He started studying it back in 1933, when a part of the British East India Company, and saw it as beneficial for use with digestive issues, acute rheumatism, in dealing with pain, and for sedation, among other applications.

The restart of medical cannabis

Over in Israel, Raphael Mechoulam was doing his own thing in the mid-1900’s, publishing a paper on the isolation of THC in 1964, and investigating it for use with a number of illnesses. Research that essentially got pushed underground for decades. There was also Roger Adams, the guy who isolated CBD in 1940, the compound that helped bolster medical cannabis in general by offering a non-psychoactive compound to treat illnesses. Basically, all those things cannabis had already been used for, prior to illegalization, began to be tested through more modern means of medical research. Most of this didn’t make any waves for a long time, until California made the topic an international story.

In the US in 1979, Virginia passed a drug bill to overhaul its system, and this bill allowed for cannabis medications to be prescribed to people with glaucoma and cancer. This was the first modern medical legalization in the US. California pushed harder with a bill solely for cannabis use in medicine in 1996, setting off a flurry of changing regulation in the States with its Proposition 215.

THC is good for the eyes, especially glaucoma

It might not be considered one of its more prevalent uses now, but cannabis use to treat glaucoma was one of the first reasons for its reintroduction into Western medicine. And this because THC has been shown to be good for the eyes. Research into cannabis use for the eyes has been out since the 1970’s, when it was determined that marijuana, and specifically THC, can decrease intraocular pressure, one of the main reasons for glaucoma.

There is more than one type of glaucoma, but the majority of sufferers have POAG – or, primary open-angle glaucoma. It might not be mentioned as much as other disorders, but glaucoma is very widespread, affecting upwards of 60 million people worldwide. Other than age and race, intraocular pressure is the third risk factor for developing the disease, meaning keeping pressures under control is vital, especially as glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts.

The idea that THC can be used to treat glaucoma – AND medically in general! – came about in the mid 70’s when a 26-year-old guy named Robert Randall – who was experiencing advanced glaucoma, which wasn’t being adequately taken care of – noticed the disappearance of halos around lights (caused by his high eye pressures) after smoking marijuana. Randall ended up growing his own marijuana, for which he got caught and arrested, and subsequently faced federal charges.

In the 1976 landmark case The United States vs Randall, Randall successfully argued his case in front of the DC Superior Court, creating “The first successful articulation of the medical necessity defense in the history of the common law, and indeed, the first case to extend the necessity defense to the crimes of possession or cultivation of marijuana.” This made Randall the first legal medical cannabis user since 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act essentially ended cannabis use in medicine, and in general.

How else is THC good for the eyes?

Funny enough, THC has an application that we all technically know about already. And if not necessarily ‘good’, with possible medical purpose, at least. Everyone knows that cannabis dries out the eyes. I can personally attest to the fact that my contacts stick right to my eyes when using marijuana. This, in and of itself, isn’t a benefit, but in this study it was shown that THC is good for regulating the lacrimal gland, and this may have positive benefits for people with epiphora, a condition of over-tearing eyes.

In 2004, a study was published on the effects of cannabis on night vision. The study included very few subjects which means it requires more corroboration, however, it did show a positive outcome. In two double blind studies on subjects who smoked kif (here defined as “sifted cannabis sativa mixed with tobacco”), it was noted that night vision improved after smoking. The belief of the investigators is that this is based on dose, and that the effect is mediated at the retinal level. The study used Marinol as its form of THC, in doses of 0-20mg.

One of the issues with THC is that due to the general ban on it, not as much research has been done into it as could have been. Right now there isn’t much research regarding cannabis and cataracts, but there are some connections that might prove promising. For one thing, THC helps reduce inflammation, which is a major characteristic of cataracts, along with elevated blood pressure which cannabis can help to decrease as well.

Another major eye issue, especially among the aging, is macular degeneration. Cannabis can help treat symptoms in many ways. For one, much like with cataracts, it can help with inflammation. Second, it can also inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor, and without the harsh side effects of pharmaceutical medications for this purpose. Third, it lowers intraocular pressure – which is beneficial for glaucoma sufferers too. And fourth, when looking at the psychological factors of having such an eye condition, and the anxiety and depression that can go along with it, cannabis can be useful here as well, helping to ease these symptoms and relax the patient.

Conclusion

As with any other topic related to medical marijuana, there are plenty of articles shouting out about possible damage caused by using it. Anyone interested in using cannabis to treat their eye issues should speak to a professional of some kind, preferably one who understands cannabis medicine. However, that THC can be good for the eyes seems to have been understood for quite some time, though its actual application has been much slower with the pick-up. Perhaps in the future this will change.