An eye test can pick up eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts and melanoma in the eye, as well as general health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure. Good eyesight is important in reducing accidental injuries from falls and motor vehicle accidents.
An optometrist is a trained health professional who can assess your vision but also pick up any more serious eye conditions such as glaucoma or macular degeneration that lead to blindness. Eye testing by an optometrist is covered under Medicare. The Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) provides for a comprehensive optometric consultation every 2 years.
However, if you experience significant changes in your vision, new signs or symptoms, or you have a progressive eye disease, you may be able to access subsidised consultations more regularly. The MBS website lists Medicare services that are subsidised by the Government. You can also ask an optometrist or ophthalmologist about these services.
You may also be eligible for discounts on your glasses and contact lenses if you hold a Seniors Card. Check with eyewear stores in your area to see which ones offer a discount. Another tip that can sometimes save you money is to recycle a favourite pair of frames by having new lenses put in them.
Wear the right lenses
An eye test will establish whether you need a different prescription for your glasses or contact lenses.
It’s important to wear the correct prescription lenses. This will improve your quality of life and reduce the risk of accidents such as falls.
You may be entitled to help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses, so ask your optometrist about this.
How to keep your eyes healthy
As well as having regular eye tests and wearing the correct glasses, you can do several things to keep your eyes as healthy as possible:
- Eat well — eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for your eyes. Eating plenty of vegetables and fruit will benefit your overall health and may help protect against some conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD, see below).
- Wear sunglasses — strong sunlight can damage your eyes and may increase your risk of cataracts. Wear sunglasses or contact lenses with a built-in UV filter to protect your eyes from harmful rays.
- Quit smoking — smoking can increase your chances of developing conditions such as cataracts and AMD.
- Stay a healthy weight — being overweight increases your risk of diabetes, which can lead to sight loss.
- Use good lighting — to see well, your eyes need 3 times as much light when you’re 60 as they did when you were 20. Increase the daylight in your home by keeping windows clean and curtains pulled back. Make sure you have good electric lighting too, especially at the top and bottom of stairs so you can see the steps clearly. For reading or close work, use a direct light from a flexible table lamp, positioned so the light is not reflected by the page and causing glare.
- Exercise — good circulation and oxygen intake are important for your eye health. Both of these are stimulated by regular exercise.
- Sleep well — as you sleep, your eyes are continuously lubricated, clearing out irritants such as dust or smoke that may have accumulated during the day.
Eye problems as you get older
As you get older, you become more likely to get certain eye problems:
- Difficulty reading — eye muscles start to weaken from the age of 45. It’s a natural ageing process of the eye that happens to us all. By the time you’re 60, you’ll probably need separate reading glasses or an addition to your prescription lenses (bifocals, multifocals or varifocals).
- Floaters — these tiny specks or spots that float across your vision are normally harmless. If they persist, see an optician as they may be a sign of an underlying health condition.
- Cataracts — easily detected in an eye test, this gradual clouding of the eye’s lens is very common in people aged over 60. A simple operation can restore sight.
- Glaucoma — this is related to an increase in pressure in the eye that leads to damage of the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. Left untreated, glaucoma leads to tunnel vision and, ultimately, blindness. However, if it’s detected early enough, these complications can usually be avoided with eye drops.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) — this is the name given to a group of degenerative diseases of the retina that cause progressive, permanent loss of central vision, affecting the ability to see fine detail, drive, read and recognise faces. It is the leading cause of major vision loss in Australia. There is no cure for AMD but treatment can slow down its progression, depending on the stage and the type of disease (wet, dry and other forms). The earlier the disease is detected, the more vision you are likely to retain. Regular checks and eye tests are recommended to reduce the risk or slow down the progression of AMD.
- Diabetic retinopathy — people with diabetes may develop this condition that can lead to serious loss of vision. If you have diabetes, make sure that you have regular eye tests.
Further information on eye health, blindness and low vision services can be found at Vision Australia . If you live in NSW you can find out if you’re eligible for the NSW spectacles program. Other states also have eye subsidy schemes. Also check My Aged Care for more information and tips.