Arizona Home To Unique Eye Ills For Older Residents

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If you're over 50 and live in Arizona, you may have trouble with your eyes that folks in other parts of the United States don't have.

Dr. Robert Thomas, of the Risser-Thomas Eye Clinic in Payson said he sees a lot of seniors with eye problems.

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Dr. Robert Thomas of the Risser-Thomas Eye Clinic in Payson has plenty of suggestions for handling some of the eye problems unique to senior citizens in the Rim country.

"Allergies, dry eyes, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma are the most common problems I treat in seniors," he said.

Allergies

We're just finishing the worst part of our allergy season in Payson, but Thomas said people who are allergic to junipers, pine trees or dust are still suffering.

"First of all, it's helpful to avoid the things you're allergic to in the first place," he said. "If you're allergic to junipers don't spend much time around them. If you can't avoid certain allergens, shut your windows, use filtering systems and keep the inside of your home dust and allergen free."

But what happens if you can't prevent a flare-up? And what if the old Visine just isn't working anymore? "There are some new prescription drops out now and they provide great and quick relief," Thomas said.

Dry Eyes

Another huge problem seniors face is dry eyes. We're not talking about the occasional itchy, dry eyes, we're talking about when your eyes feel gritty, burn and feel as if there is something in your eyes.

"It's more common with every decade you live. Your tear production drops as you age. A big issue for women is when their estrogen levels drop, so does their tear production. Since the tear and mucus production slows, their eyes get real dry," he said.

"If you don't get relief from over-the-counter drops, here are some basic tips: avoid drafts and the wind, don't sit under or around air conditioning vents, try a humidifier in your home and remember to blink and take breaks if you're in front of the computer a lot," Thomas said.

If you're on medication, you might ask your doctor or pharmacist whether it dries out the fluid in your body. Certain antihistamines and depression medications are known to dry out the body's tissues, he said.

If your condition is pretty bad, you can try little plugs. These plugs are smaller than a pin head and a doctor can insert them (painlessly) into a couple of your tear ducts to prevent excess tear loss.The plugs basically work like a miniature dam holding in the tears. That keeps your eyes wetter.

"There are also a couple of prescription medications out now to lessen inflammation and keep tear production higher," Thomas said.

Seniors aren't the only ones afflicted by excessive dry eyes. "People in their 30s and 40s who have had LASIK (laser assisted) surgery often complain of drier eyes following surgery," he said.

Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is also a cause of discomfort. This disease affects up to 50 percent of the senior population. Maybe you've heard of it. The symptoms include a blurring or wavy section in the middle of your vision.

You can prevent macular degeneration to some degree. Wearing eye protection in the sun is one way and avoiding tanning booths is another.

"Just like when the skin burns, your eyes can burn over time from the sun," said Thomas.

Also, if you smoke, quit. Thomas says smoking leaches fluid out of the body, too.

You can also help ward off problems by eating lots of dark green, leafy vegetables, like spinach and broccoli, and take vitamins with antioxidants in them, he said.

If you already have macular degeneration, it can be treated with laser surgery. Also, the Food and Drug Administration has recently approved certain medications to help.

Cataracts

There are about 200 different causes of cataracts. With cataracts, there is a clouding and yellowing of the lens. Cataracts are commonly age-related and found with people who are in the sun a great deal. Thomas said diabetics tend to get cataracts about 10 years before non-diabetics do.

There are treatments for cataracts. Today, surgeons can dissolve the afflicted lens and put in an artificial one.

Glaucoma

A routine eye examination, generally includes a check for glaucoma.

But left undetected and untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness.

The trouble with glaucoma is that usually there are no symptoms. It can occur when the nerves in the eye become damaged, usually in later life.

Thomas said physicians can treat glaucoma when found early, with drops and laser surgery.

However, keep in mind that once someone has severe glaucoma, there is little a doctor can do to improve vision. The damage is done and can't be repaired.

Thomas suggests seniors get frequent eye exams and call their physician immediately if they're having any vision loss.

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