EYE HEALTH: When your arms aren't long enough to read the print its probably time to get your eyes checked by an optometrist.
EYE HEALTH: When your arms aren't long enough to read the print its probably time to get your eyes checked by an optometrist. gpointstudio

Save your eyesight now with this good advice

GOOD eye health starts with precaution before a sight problem or refractive error is revealed which can significantly impact on your quality of life.

This means getting your eye health tested by your local optometrist every 12 months from the time you hit 60. From the age of 65 you are eligible for a full Medicare rebate for the cost of an annual test.

Many eye conditions associated with ageing aren't immediately obvious to the person. They can sneak up without causing early pain or symptoms and become obvious once damage to the eye has occurred. When up to 90 per cent of blindness in Australia is avoidable or treatable if detected early, it's a strong argument for staying on top of your eye health.

As we age we are prone to presbyopia, or old eye. This is where the clear lens inside the eye becomes less flexible and less able to change its shape. Optometry Australia's chief clinical officer Luke Arundel says this can cause difficulties with focusing up close such as when you are reading small print. "It's very common for people 40 or 45 onwards," Mr Arundel said.

When we find ourselves squinting to help see just a little bit more clearly, we aren't causing any damage to our eyes, but the muscles around the eyes will tire and tension headaches can follow.

And when your arms aren't long enough to hold a book or newspaper far enough away to read the print, it's probably time to do something about what is a refractive error in your eyes.

Where to start

Each time you meet with your optometrist, you need to tell them what regular medications you are taking and what visual tasks you are doing.

"When we prescribe glasses, particularly glasses for close work, the distance that you want to hold your reading material at is very important to us," Mr Arundel said. "If you are playing bridge and want to look at cards that on a table that is 70cm away, you may need a different prescription from if you want to lie in bed and hold a book 30cm away."

You need to also detail your hobbies, crafts, what type of computer screen you use - a PC or iPad, for example - your sports and recreation activities, and whether you want to wear glasses or contact lenses. With this knowledge the optometrist can tailor your visual solution.

The next step is to discuss what type of glasses you want - bifocals which have the top half for distance and a small bottom segment for reading, multifocal or varied focal lens which has the distance at the top with an intermediate zone which might be for computers and a reading zone at the bottom, or separate glasses for reading and distance.

"With multifocals, the way that the lens's are designed, there is often a little bit of distortion in the periphery," Mr Arundel said. "Not everyone gets used to multifocals or bifocals; possibly as low as one in 30 might. Typically, it's something that would be covered by an adaption warranty. So, if a patient doesn't get used to them, often it will be changed at no charge for changing to one pair for distance and one for reading."

Glare protection

Other options to consider to help protect your eyes from UV is including transitions or wearing fit-overs as an alternative to purchasing a separate pair of prescription sunglasses.

Pharmacy glasses

This option is often suitable to people who have perfect distance vision, but there are few people who find these magnifier glasses accurately suit their reading distance needs. "The way they are made is that the optical centre of the lens is randomly selected," Mr Arundel said.

These glasses can be a good emergency option, but Mr Arundel says using these glasses shouldn't stop you have having your eyes tested every year to ensure there are no significant vision problems arising.

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