They say the eyes are the window to the soul, and in many ways, the saying is true. Eyes can show intelligence, emotions, and even give us clues about our health.
But as we age, our eyes change in appearance as well as function, and we find ourselves struggling to look and see like we did when we were younger.
September is Healthy Aging Month, and an important aspect of healthy aging is keeping your eyes bright and healthy and your vision sharp. So read below to learn what you can do to keep your eyes looking and feeling great!
6 Common Aging Eye Health Issues
As we get older, it’s common to experience changes in vision. And while many of these issues are treatable, it’s important to get checked regularly for these 6 common yet troublesome conditions:
Presbyopia. While your vision changes slowly over the course of your life, starting around age 40, you may find that you have increased difficulty reading small print or seeing objects that are close by. Fortunately, with regular eye exams, this condition is usually correctable with reading glasses and/or contact lenses.
Dry Eyes. This condition occurs when tear glands do not function well or do not produce enough tears. It can cause itching, burning, redness, or other discomfort. It becomes more common as people get older, and more women seem to be affected than men. Treatment may include using a humidifier, special eye drops or ointment, or in severe cases, surgery.
Cataracts. In a healthy eye, light passes through the lens to the retina in the back and images are processed; however, cataracts, or cloudy areas in the eye’s lens, block some of the light and cause blurred or hazy vision. Cataracts usually form slowly, and while some may remain small, some may become large or thick and impair vision. In these cases, they can usually be removed by surgery.
Glaucoma. Having too much fluid pressure inside the eye causes glaucoma. This happens due to a blockage of the fluid that flows between the cornea and the lens. If untreated, it can result in vision loss and blindness. It may also occur due to injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels, or inflammatory disorders of the eye. Glaucoma can be treated with prescription eye drops, lasers, or surgery. Though there are no symptoms, you can protect yourself by having regular dilated eye exams.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 60. It comes in two forms (wet and dry) and occurs when the central part of the retina is damaged due to deterioration of retinal cells (dry form) or to leaking blood vessels in, or under, the retina (wet form). Advanced progression of AMD may lead to vision loss, so it’s important to get regular dilated eye exams. While there is no cure, medications, laser therapies, and vitamins may help preserve vision and slow development.
Diabetic retinopathy. Older adults are at greater risk of developing diabetes, and because of this, they also face the risk of developing complications like diabetic retinopathy. This is the result of damage to the blood vessels of the retina and develops slowly with no early symptoms. Managing blood sugar can prevent or slow progression, and laser surgery may help as well. Annual dilated eye exams are a must if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
Nutrition for Eye Health
Just as certain nutrients promote healthy skin, hair, nails, and brain function, there are nutrients that have been identified as promoting eye health and even helping to prevent or slow the development of eye problems and disorders.
So which nutrients can help protect your eyes?
Beta-carotene – is an antioxidant carotenoid that gives food its orange color. Foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, cantaloupes, peppers, and apricots are high in beta-carotene, and the body converts it into vitamin A (retinol), which promotes good vision and eye health.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) – is an antioxidant found in fruits like kiwi, berries, citrus, and papaya, and vegetables like peppers, broccoli, leafy greens, tomatoes, and peas. Studies show that vitamin C lowers the risk of developing cataracts, and when taken with other essential nutrients, it helps slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration and visual acuity loss.
Vitamin E – is a powerful antioxidant found in foods like nuts, seeds, avocadoes, fish, broccoli, and squash. It is believed to shield eye cells from damage caused by free radicals, which break down healthy tissue.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – help the nervous system, provide energy for cells, and promote a healthy immune system. Research finds that both types of omega-3 fatty acids – alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in oils like soybean, canola, flaxseed, and walnuts, as well as green vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, and salad greens, and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fatty fish – are necessary for good vision development and retinal function.
Zinc – is an essential trace mineral that plays a vital role in bringing vitamin A from the liver to the retina in order to produce melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes. Foods high in zinc include seafood, lean meats, beans, mushrooms, and nuts. It is highly concentrated in the eye, mostly in the retina and choroid, the vascular tissue layer lying under the retina.
Lutein & Zeaxanthin – are important nutrients found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as other foods like eggs. Multiple studies have shown that lutein and zeaxanthin reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Two five-year clinical trials called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2), sponsored by the National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health, examined the benefits of taking a daily antioxidant multivitamin on the development and progression of AMD and cataracts among adults ages 55 to 80.
The original AREDS study found that a supplement with beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc reduced the risk of advanced AMD among study participants at high risk of vision loss due to pre-existing intermediate AMD (or advanced AMD in one eye) by 25 percent. The AREDS2 study added lutein and zeaxanthin and found that a multivitamin containing the two ingredients reduced, by 25%, the risk of progression of AMD to advanced stages.
Solutions For Younger Looking Eyes
Another major concern for aging eyes often involves changes in their appearance. From dark circles, to wrinkles, to thinning eyelashes, what can you do to make your eyes look younger?
Problem: Dark circles
A problem for people of all ages, the combination of heredity, thinning skin, and lifestyle factors like lack of sleep, stress, drinking, smoking, and sun exposure can make dark circles more obvious and harder to hide as we get older.
Solutions: Cover up with a creamy concealer one shade lighter than your skin tone. Pick a color that has yellow undertones, which can help neutralize bluish/purplish tones. Also look for makeup products with light-reflecting pigments, which can help improve the appearance of dark circles. Products with hydroquinone or kojic acid may help lighten hyperpigmentation, too.
For stubborn dark circles that just won’t hide, chemical peels, laser resurfacing, blue light therapy, or other laser treatments may help. And, if you have bruising after the procedure, you can opt for using a topical like VitaMedica’s Arnica+K Cream. A 2009 study showed that using topical vitamin K helped clear bruising in patients having a cosmetic laser procedure around the eyes.
Problem: Fine lines and wrinkles
Wrinkles around the eyes (crow’s feet) get deeper with age, and can be caused by anything from smiling, squinting, or smoking!
Solutions: Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! And look for an eye cream with silicone fillers, which fill fine lines and prevent makeup from settling into them, making them more pronounced. Creams containing niacinamide, peptides and antioxidants may also help with fine lines, as can prescription Retin-A cream.
Problem: Chronic puffiness and bags
The skin on our eyelids gets thinner as we age, and as muscles weaken, fat migrates and fluids accumulate, our eyes look puffy and get those dreaded “bags.”
Solutions: Prevent puffiness by treating allergies and avoiding high-sodium foods, which make puffy eyes worse. You can also decrease puffiness by putting cold tea bags on your eyes, as the tannins and caffeine will help reduce swelling.
Got luggage that you just can’t seem to put away? Blepharoplasty, a type of eyelid surgery better known as an “eye lift,” removes excess fat and skin, making it an effective and long-lasting solution. It can be performed on the upper lids, to remove sagging skin or excess puffiness, or on the lower lid to remove bags or correct drooping eyelids.
While post-surgical downtime depends on the individual, Vitamedica’s Arnica Montana and Bromelain with Quercetin supplements and Arnica+K Cream can help with recovery and minimize bruising and swelling. Final results appear within a few weeks, though it may take up to a year for incision lines to fully refine, and results are long-lasting.
Problem: Sunken eyes and/or loss of volume
As you age, your face loses fat and volume, and your eyes are no different. Your eyes can look sunken into the orbital area, resulting in an almost skeletal look.
Solutions: Gaining a little weight can add extra fat and volume to the face, but that’s only healthy if you’re underweight. Instead, try using makeup to improve your look. Neutralize the lid by patting on concealer, and use a light eye shadow color on the brow line to brighten the entire area. Avoid dark or smoky colors like chocolate brown or charcoal, which will make your eyes look even more deep set.
Looking for something that lasts longer? Some doctors also use dermal fillers such as Restylane, a gel form of hyaluronic acid, to add volume to the face.
Problem: Graying and/or thinning eyelashes
Like the hair on our head, lashes and eyebrows go gray and get thinner over time! This makes eyes appear older, less bright, and more tired.
Solution: Curl and darken lashes with mascara that adds color, volume, and length. If you have fair skin and fair hair, go for dark brown rather than a harsh black that looks unnatural. You can also use an over-the-counter lash enhancer like Revitalash that moisturizes and plumps eyelashes so they appear fuller. Or try wearing false eyelashes, which can be found in a variety of styles from wispy and natural to thick and dramatic.
You can also ask your doctor about Latisse, a version of a glaucoma drug that lengthens, thickens, and darkens eyelashes by extending the growth phase and increasing the number of eyelashes. In a 16-week study, participants saw a 25% increase in length, 106% increase in thickness and fullness, and an 18% increase in darkness. However, some individuals may experience side effects like dry eyes, darkened eyelid skin, or eye redness, among others.
Other Tips & Tricks
A fun pair of snappy, showy, fashionable glasses can help you see better and become a fashion accessory that frames your eyes to make them appear more attractive.
Permanent eye makeup can fill in brows or the lash line to help eyes look less tired and stand out more without makeup. Like a tattoo, it uses micropigmentation to deposit color underneath the upper layers of the skin. However, fading does occur, and touch-ups may be required every few years. Because results can vary, it can be risky and extremely difficult to reverse. If you choose to try it, make sure the business is licensed and inspected by the health board, check that the practitioner is certified, and ask for references!
Get a professional makeup lesson. Too often, we don’t use the right colors for our skin or use too much makeup, which can have the opposite of the intended effect and make us look even older! A professional can help you find a great look, from natural to dramatic, and teach you how to shade, contour, and highlight to create the illusion of younger, brighter, more wide-open eyes.
Healthy Eye Habits
Practice these healthy eye habits year-round to protect your eyes from disease and aging.
Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Even if your eyes feel fine, many eye problems and disorders have few to no symptoms and cannot be detected in their early stages without a dilated eye exam.
Know your family history. Some diseases like AMD may have a hereditary component, so it’s important to know your family eye health history. Knowing if someone has been diagnosed with a disease or condition will help your doctor better assess your risk factors and monitor your eye health.
Protect your eyes. UV protection for eyes helps prevent against cataract formation and macular degeneration, so wear sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays when you’re outdoors. Cheap sunglasses without UVA/UVB protection may block out visible light, making you squint less, but the dark lenses open up your pupil and allow more harmful light in!
Don’t smoke! Not only does smoking lead to premature skin aging and cause wrinkles, it has also been linked to the two leading causes of vision loss – cataracts and macular degeneration!
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight puts you at greater risk of developing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which can in turn elevate your risk of eye disease. Eat healthfully, exercise, and see your doctor regularly for check-ups.
Rest your eyes. Whether it’s TV, the computer, or an e-reader, your eyes can get fatigued from focusing too long on one thing. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look away about 20 feet in front of you for 20 seconds. This can help reduce eyestrain.
Treat your eyes well with these tips, and the next time you find someone looking deeply into them, you’ll know it’s because they look healthy and beautiful!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.