By Doris Obinna
The eyes, unarguably, are the most sensitive, out of the five sense organs of the body. No one jokes with them. They are like a country’s territory, cherished and jealously guarded against all forms of external forces.
This is not unconnected with the vital and almighty function our eyes play. They are small but mighty in all ramifications. The old saying that the eyes are the windows to the soul cannot be over-emphasised here. Irrespective of one’s tribe, religion, sex or financial strength, the eyes perform the same function – vision.
To effortlessly move from one place to the other and conduct your daily activities, the eyes have it! Notwithstanding, no matter how one pampers this sensory organ, the law of diminishing return naturally sets in as one grows older. Just as our physical strength decreases with age, our eyes also exhibit an age- related decline in performance, particularly as we reach certain age.
Are your eyes aging gracefully? If no, how concerned are you and what steps are you taking to avoid needing the white cane soon? How soon the eyes become mere objects of decoration without sight and vision, varies from one individual to another.
Narrating his experience, a 45-year-old banker, Mathew Aluo, said: “At first, I was not sure what the problem was with my eyes because I never, at any time, imagined that I would be using glasses. Having been using the computer for work for years, it becomes increasingly difficult reading small prints at a time. I find myself placing books at arm’s length in order to be able to read also with sharper illumination.”
According to him, it started when he developed some nagging headache after a busy day at work. It persisted and became unbearable, causing him to dash to the hospital to have his eyes examined. After the diagnosis, the result revealed that he was suffering from age-related eye defect, which could be corrected with recommended glasses.
The banker is not alone in the battle to keep the eyes alive for effective use. Also caught in the dilemma is Gloria Okafor, until she was advised by her doctor to stop straining her eyes and go for checks. It became obvious to Okafor, who is in her 40s, that something was certainly wrong with her eyes, when she suddenly discovered that she had to bring books closer whenever she wanted to read. Thanks to her timely action, recommended glasses prevented her from completely going blind.
In her words: “Before now, I discovered that I am sensitive to light and always found myself looking away from light’s rays from an oncoming vehicle at night. I am used to straining by eyes to read words that are in small print, but with my glasses now, I can read even the thinnest print without straining my eyes.”
Different researches show that when one is between 40 and 50 years, the lens of the eye becomes less flexible and less able to thicken. Therefore, it won’t be able to efficiently focus on nearby objects, a condition called presbyopia. In this case, experts recommend that reading glasses or bifocal lenses can help compensate for this problem.
According to an Ophthalmologist, Festus Osoba, the effects of aging on the eye are many, revealing that the eyeball grows throughout one lifetime.
Said he: “For most people, as they get older, life begins at 40 with their eyes. They are unable to see things that are far or are near very well.
“Naturally, some people (about 15 per cent of the population) are born with short-sightedness, while some are born with long-sightedness. For short-sightedness, you are able to see object that are near rather than objects that are far, while those suffering from long-sightedness are the other way round.”
He explained that irrespective of whether one has normal eyes, short-sighted or long-sighted, once one gets to age 40, something is introduced to the way the eye functions.
Hear him: “Inside the eyeball, there is a lens, and God made it in a way that when you are looking at something that is far, it will elongate and becomes thinner and when looking at something that is near, it will shorten and fattens so that you can see what is near.
“The process or ability to see what is near and far at the same time is called accommodation. This accommodation is predicated on the elasticity of the covering of the lens of the eye. So, as we get older and reaching the point of 40, the elasticity of the eyes begins to reduce such that the eye can see what is far but does not see what is near clearly.
“At this point, we say that the near vision has moved in. If you want to see something clearly, you have to move it further in front of you also with more illumination before you can see it well. When this happens, we call it presbyopia.”
Why some old people read without glasses
Dr. Osoba notes that presbyopia is not a disease but a physiological stage in which even when people with normal sight get to 40 years would require a pair of glasses to see things that are near. He described this as the most common occurrence to everyone. He said those with short-sightedness do not need reading glasses once they get to 40 years and above.
“At times, you hear people using glasses complain and compare themselves with some other older persons who read without glasses. This is because, they are short sighted,” he said.
Watch that cataract, glaucoma and save your eyes
According to the ophthalmologist, the other disease that comes with age is cataract. He defines cataract as an opacification of the lens of the eye, and described it as the leading cause of blindness. He said it was responsible for about 50 per cent of blindness globally and Nigeria not exempted.
Osaba said what causes cataract is usually an ultra viral ray from the sun reflecting onto the eye over the years, which consequently causes protein denaturalisation of the lens of the eyes and then becomes opaque.
“When the lens becomes opaque, it does not allow light to pass through. It scatters light. People with cataract have poorer vision during bright light than when the light is dim. Although, there are other causes of disease in the eye, cataract is one of the leading causes.”
He also noted that one of the commonest causes of hazy vision or blur in the eye is glaucoma.
“This is a disease, which is associated with the increase in the eye pressure. When this occurs, it causes damage to the nerve of the eye, which connect the eyeball to the brim and loss of vision and total blindness, which is irreversible and incurable,” he added.
At what age should I check my eyes?
Anybody who is between the ages of 21 and above should have his or her eye pressures check regularly so as to detect any deficiency as well as prevent total blindness.
“However, regular checks would prevent blindness. Have a calendar at home that you look at. Use it to check your vision by closing one eye and using the other separately. This will help you know when your eye is going blind. Eat enough fruits and food recommended by your doctor. Also, use protective and photochromic glasses and then, your eyes will last you throughout your life time,” Osoba admonished.
Some researches state that in old age, changes to the sclera (the white part of the eyes) include the following: yellowing or browning caused by many years of exposure to ultraviolet light, wind, and dust. Random splotches of pigment (more common among people with a dark complexion).
Osoba said: “The number of mucous cells in the conjunctiva may decrease with age. Tear production may also decrease with age, so that fewer tears are available to keep the surface of the eye moist. Both of these changes explain why older people are more likely to have dry eyes. However, even though the eyes tend to be dry normally, tearing can be significant when the eyes are irritated, such as when an onion is cut or an object contacts the eye.
“Some diseases of the retina are more likely to occur in old age, including macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy(if people have diabetes), and detachment of the retina. Other eye diseases, such as cataracts, also become common.”
Also worthy to note is the fact that among known diabetics over age 40, National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that 40 per cent has some degree of diabetic retinopathy, and one of every 12 people with diabetes in this age group has advanced vision-threatening retinopathy.
Foods that sharpen the eye
Osoba implored Nigerians to always consume foods that are rich in Vitamin A, stressing that they are the antidotes to fighting sudden sight defect.
The good news is that the foods and fruits are available in the open markets in every part of Nigeria and affordable to many.
Said he: “For instance; carrot, green vegetables, maize, egg and palm oil are good examples rich in carotenoid. These are good source of nutrition for the eye for clear vision. Kids should be fed with yellow foods, egg, milk and vegetables.
“Vision itself is a physical chemical reaction and involve in that chemical reaction in the eye (retina) is prodopsin. Prodospin is a pigment found in the carotenoid.
“In the North, most people do not take palm oil but instead they take groundnut oil, which makes them develop melting of the corny of the eye because they lack Vitamin A. For a child who lacks Vitamin A, the melting of the eye has set in, which could eventually lead to blindness as the child advances in age.”
To avoid this, he canvasses proper breast-feeding for babies, which is a good source of Vitamin A. He also preached immunisation as at when due.
Meanwhile, University of Oxford researchers looking at the link between diet and cataracts found the risk of developing a cataract was nearly one third less in vegetarians, who tend to eat more whole grains, vegetables and beans, than those who ate more than 100g of meat a day.
While fresh and canned salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring are extremely rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fat that is concentrated in the eye’s retina and required for the maintenance of normal vision.
Some studies suggest that having regular meals of omega-3 oily fish, once or twice a week may help to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
In a study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology in 2013, patients with dry eyes, who received capsules containing omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and DHA for three months showed a significant improvement in symptoms.
Habits that damage the eyes
On habits that damage the eyes, Osoba said the most common was self/harmful medication. According to him: “Many people when faced with a viral infection of the eye, which causes redness, watering of eye and discomfort known as conjunctivitis (Apollo), they take to self medication. They apply things like; urine, sugar water, ogogoro, hot gin. While some go as far as applying alkaline and acid. This is a usual epidemic that occurs. A person who is affected with this disease is expected to wash the eyes with soap regularly and it will subside.
“Also, if perhaps, the affected person visits the hospital, what the doctor does is to administer preventive antibiotic or sometimes, anti-viral germs and the disease is cured. But most people, instead of adhering to these measures or see their doctors, they destroy the eyes with these harmful medications
“This harmful practice damages the corny and eyeball and the eyeball eventually goes blind on something that is preventable.”