Five Surprising Things That Can Damage Vision

Senior woman using exercise resistance bands

Most of us know about eye conditions that can damage our eyesight. Millions of Americans suffer diminished vision from age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts and diabetic eye disease.

But some causes of vision loss are less well-known. Our eyesight can be negatively affected by ...

Exercise bands. In September 2018, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) noted that people have suffered serious eye injuries when exercising with the popular rubber resistance bands or tubing. These bands can recoil with great force during a workout, and contact with the eye can result in corneal damage and even retinal detachment. The AAO notes that bungee cords, too, can cause trauma to the eyes. The academy reminds us to use caution with these elasticized items. See a doctor right away if you do suffer an eye injury in this manner.

Binocular vision disorders. Researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada report that 27 percent of people older than 60 have abnormal binocular vision, a disorder that doesn't allow the eyes to work well as a team. The incidence rises to 38 percent for people older than 80. When the eyes can't focus in tandem, depth perception is affected. Binocular vision disorders can increase depression and the risk of falls. But there's good news: Study author Dr. Susan Leat says that many binocular vision disorders are treatable with glasses, vision therapy, or in some cases, surgery.

Shingles. Most older adults know that shingles can cause a painful rash and lead to ongoing nerve pain. But many are unaware that the virus can affect the eye, causing an extremely painful complication called herpes zoster ophthalmicus that can damage the optic nerve and retina, and cause ulcers on the surface of the eye that are so damaging that a patient may need a cornea transplant. All people older than 60 are routinely advised to be immunized against shingles. And in October 2018, the AAO recommended that everyone age 50 and older get the vaccine. "Just do it. That's what I tell my patients," said AAO clinical spokesperson Dr. Dianna L. Seldomridge. "The vaccine is safe and effective."

Droopy eyelids. Through the years, the skin around our eyes can stretch and sag. This isn't merely a cosmetic matter; if our eyelids droop low enough, they can actually obscure part of the pupil of our eye, blocking a substantial portion of our visual field. The American Society for Dermatologic Surgery says this can lead to astigmatism and other vision problems, as well as headaches. Surgery can raise the lids and improve vision. (Check with Medicare or your insurance company ahead of time; they usually will cover the surgery only if it's considered medically necessary, as opposed to cosmetic.)

A trip to Mars. OK, it's not likely that many Caring Right at Home readers will be choosing the Red Planet as a vacation destination, but this one is still pretty interesting! The AAO notes that astronauts often experience vision problems during long stays on the space station, which persist even when they're back on the ground. At an AAO conference in August 2018, NASA astronaut Dr. David Wolf explained that lack of gravity increases pressure that causes the eye of a space traveler to reshape. Ophthalmologists are seeking solutions that will protect the vision of astronauts during future lengthy missions. And insights gained might help all of us protect our vision, even if we remain earthbound.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your eye care professional or your insurance plan.

Did you know that vision loss raises the risk of dementia? Eyesight isn't the only sense involved. Loss of hearing, taste, touch and even smell also can damage the brain in many ways. The February 2019 issue of the Caring Right at Home online newsletter will take a look at recent research concerning this connection.

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