Health Watch: Aging eyes and expectations

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska At last night's 'Healthy Lecture Series' held at UAF, Dr. Michael Mavencamp, an optometrist with the West Valley Vision Center, explained cataracts - or a fogging on the lens in the eye, is something that affects everyone.

As we age, our eyes get weaker. Not seeing as far, light having a greater effect on the eye, and even changes in the shape of the eye are a part of getting older.

Over time, the muscles around the eyes gets weaker, and unlike other parts of the body, there isn't a way to exercise them to prevent damage. Similarly, the eye itself becomes less powerful. He explains the effect that cataract has on someone is dependent on the person.

"So, what I determine is not 20/20, or 20/30, but more as 20/unhappy versus 20/happy," began Dr. Mavencamp. "… That's subjective for every patient. Patients who are sometimes 20/unhappy, may have the same cataract as someone 20/happy. It's just a matter of how they want to use their eyes."

Although a change in vision overtime is natural, Dr. Mavencamp says not all changes are normal. A sudden change in vision is a concern.

"If you have an immediate change in your vision there is usually some sort of structural damage or some kind of event that has occurred that is likely not going to end well unless we address it," said Dr. Mavencamp.

One example of a sudden change in vision is white streaks, or what looks like lighting in the eyes. Although it could be nothing, it could be a retinal tear.

A common eye problem is Glaucoma, which is a buildup of pressure on the eye. If caught early, Glaucoma treatment can be as simple as eye drops. If gone untreated, it can lead to blindness.

"If you value your eyes, if you value your vision, then it's worth going ahead and making sure that everything is healthy and everything is the way it should be," stated Dr. Mavencamp.

Mavencamp says routine testing is the safest way to prevent vision loss as individuals age.

Dr. Mavencamp says it is a common misconception that wearing one's prescription glasses weakens their eyes. He says wearing them will neither negatively nor positively affect the strength of someone's eyes.