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Your LIFE: Eyes right! SIGHT NOT AS SHARP AS IT WAS? HERE'S HOW TO PROTECT VISION IN LATER LIFE.

Byline: BY MADELEINE BAILEY

LIFE starts to get a little blurred around the edges as we get older - after all, it's rare to reach middle-age without your eyesight deteriorating.

If you are lucky, you probably just need reading glasses. But the bleaker picture is that you could be suffering from one of the age-related eye conditions detailed below - some of which can lead to blindness if not tackled early enough.

These conditions are easily spotted by an optician, but at the moment four million pensioners are failing to have a free eye test, thereby putting their eyesight at risk.

So don't be short-sighted when it comes to your ageing eyes. Here's a round up of the conditions to be aware of and how to protect your peepers from them...

AMD

AGE-RELATED macular degeneration - AMD for short - affects around 500,000 people in the UK. It occurs when cells in the macula (an area at the back of the eye) are damaged.

Dr Frank Eperjesi, a research optometrist at Aston University, says: "Dry AMD is the most common, where sight loss occurs gradually over several years. But with wet AMD, which affects 10 per cent of sufferers, sight goes rapidly."

Symptoms include loss of central vision and distorted vision. Despite the names, the terms "wet" and "dry" bear no relation to the way the eye feels.

Protect your peepers Being a smoker significantly increases your risk, so pack it in now - even just living with a smoker doubles your chances of contracting AMD. Obesity, poor diet and exposure to sunlight also make you vulnerable.

Dr Eperjesi says: "Wear sunglasses with a total UV block. And eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day, especially green leafy veg such as spinach and kale, which contain lutein.

One study showed that 10mg a day of lutein could help to reverse dry AMD."

If you can't stomach spinach, try an eye health supplement instead, such as Visionace (pounds 6.95 for 30 tablets) from pharmacies. See your optician if you suspect you have dry AMD. But if your vision is distorted go to your nearest A&E as your sight could be in danger.

Lucentis, a new drug for early-stage wet AMD, is now licensed. In trials it improved vision in a third of patients and stopped deterioration in most.

Call the Macular Disease Society helpline (9am-5pm) on 0845 241 2041.

Cataracts

MORE than half of over-65s have some evidence of cataracts, which are caused by a clouding of the lenses.

Symptoms include blurred or double vision, light sensitivity and seeing a yellowish tinge.

Protect your peepers As with AMD, give up smoking and eat healthily. "Smoking destroys the eye's defence mechanism and, along with obesity, alters the body's ability to absorb nutrients from food," explains Dr Eperjesi.

Long-term sun exposure is also known to raise your risk of cataracts, so don't forget your shades - even on bright winter days.

Fortunately, they are easily cured with a simple, low-cost operation to replace the clouded lens. The 45-minute procedure only requires a local anaesthetic.

Dry eye syndrome

LACK of tear production causes a painful dryness in the eyes.

Central heating, air conditioning and regular computer use all make it worse. Seven per cent of over-50s are affected.

Protect your peepers Include lots of omega-3s in your diet. These are found in oily fish, fortified breads, walnuts and sesame seeds.

Research has found that women with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their diets have a 20 per cent lower risk of getting dry eye syndrome than those with the lowest levels of omega-3s.

Eye drops can soothe irritation while Clarymist (pounds 12.95 for 10ml) reduces the evaporation of tears. Or ask your optician about special plugs for the tear duct to stop tears draining away.

Long sight

AS we age, the lens - the transparent body behind the coloured bit of our eyes - loses its ability to focus on near objects.

Protect your peepers Reading glasses should correct this problem. However, there's also a state-of-the-art surgical solution. Only available privately at around pounds 2,000 per eye, you can have an operation to replace the faulty lens with an artificial multi-focal one - this can fix both short and long sight.

For advice, call the Eyecare Trust on 0845 129 5001 or visit www.eye-care.org.uk

Glaucoma

THIS sight-threatening condition affects two per cent of people aged over 40, but, tragically, half don't become aware of it until too late.

Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve due to a build-up of pressure. It leads to tunnel vision and eventually blindness.

It's important to spot it early. So make sure you go for eye tests every two years - or every year if you have a close relative with glaucoma.

Call the International Glaucoma Association on 0870 609 1870 or visit www.iga.org.uk

DO I NEED A SIGHT TEST?

EVERYONE should go for an eye test every two years, but the over-70s and anyone at risk of a disease like glaucoma should have annual check-ups.

Even if you have perfect vision, your optician may spot life-threatening health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a brain tumour or even an imminent stroke.

Call the RNIB helpline on 0845 766 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 22, 2007
Words:894
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