June 2, 2010

USA: Keeping eyes, ears open

FT. LAUDERDALE, Florida / Life Extension Daily News / Health Concerns / June 2, 2010

EVERYONE AGES -- it is one of the fundamental truths of life. Of course, aging does bring us some benefits: We gain knowledge and experience, and we often gain the respect of those who are younger than we are.

Unfortunately, that's not all we gain as we grow older. Most of us acquire some things that are less pleasant. Failing eye sight and hearing are two of the most common ailments.

While it's impossible to turn back the hands of time, you can age more gracefully. The key is being vigilant -- it's important to see a professional at the first hint of trouble.

The problem is, you might not know what to be on the look out for. Dr. Whit Lord of Lord's Eye Care can understand. Aging can affect the eyes in many ways.

But Lord says that there are typically three main problems. Those include cataracts, macular degeneration and presbyopia.

"A cataract is a clouding of the natural lens within the eye and has an effect on vision similar to looking through a window pane that has a film on it. One can still see through the filmy window but there is a decline in the clarity," he said.

The vision issue becomes progressively worse. The treatment for cataracts is to remove the cloudy natural lens and replace it with a clear plastic implant.

"The good news is this procedure is normally very quick and easy, requires no hospitalization, and is only minimally disruptive to one's normal daily routine," Lord said.

Another common problem is macular degeneration.

"Macular degeneration is a progressive degeneration of the very critical central area of the retina, the inside layer of the back of the eye. The macular area of the retina is responsible for being able to see detail in whatever one is trying to see," he said. "Peripheral vision is typically spared in macular degeneration, which allows one to have reasonable mobility even in more pronounced cases."

Vision that is lost to macular degeneration can rarely be recovered, Lord says, but the goal of treatment is to try and stabilize the condition as much as possible.

"In the wet form of macular degeneration, when bleeding occurs in the retina in conjunction with macular degeneration), lasers are used to try and control the hemorrhaging," he said.

Presbyopia is another problem. Lord says that this is not considered a disease but is simply a refractive problem directly related to the aging process. The condition can be corrected with either reading glasses, bifocals, trifocals, or progressive, powered lenses.

"Presbyopia is a condition where the lens within the eye becomes rigid or loses its flexibility. To see at near point, such as for reading or other similar tasks, the lens within the eye has to flex or curve more which increases the focusing power of the lens and is required to see near objects," he said.

"With the loss of this flexibility, the person can no longer see clearly at near point without the help of some type lenses."

Glaucoma is one of the other serious, although glaucoma can occur at any age it is much more prevalent after the age of 50.

"Fluid within the eye is constantly being produced and glaucoma is a condition in which the fluid doesn't drain out of the eye at an acceptable rate and pressure builds within the eye. Left untreated, glaucoma can slowly lead to a severe loss of vision and or blindness," Lord said.

Hearing also gives us problems as we age. Dr. Eric Leinert of Advance Hearing and Balance says that hearing loss can be insidious. It can affect people at many different ages but is often seen in older individuals.

"There is not a particular age. There are many factors that can affect hearing. If you have worked around loud noise for better part of your career and if you're not good about wearing hearing protection," he said. "So we can see people as young as 30 for noise induced hearing loss."

Other than exposure to loud sounds. Leinert says that there is no real rhyme or reason that makes an individual more or less prone to hearing loss.

"Of course, you might be more likely to experience hearing loss if you have a history of it in your family," he said.

Some signs that you or someone you know might be having a tough time with hearing is withdrawing from social situations. As if becomes more difficult to hear, a person may stop going to dinner or to church.

"People tend to have difficulties with understanding speech. It is not necessarily that they don't hear. It just becomes more challenging in situations with background noise," he said.

It is also something that happens suddenly and without much warning.

"You wake up one day -- other people are mumbling. It might not be them. It might be your hearing going as well," Leinert said.

Other than muffled sounds, ringing in the ears is another indication that something is wrong.

"Tinnitus, ringing in the ears, many times is a precursor or a symptom that goes along with hearing loss.

There are several options for treatment and it all depends on type of hearing loss.

"There is medication and surgical options if they have sensory neural hearing loss. We typical treat the communication issues no medication or surgery evaluate communicative needs with hearing device," he said.

Regardless of the severity, it is important to get a handle on the problems as soon as you can.

"In terms of identifying what's going on with potential problem, you should seek help of professional see if you can get an assessment of the base, where you stand," Leinert said. "If you have concerns, you should see someone."

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Copyright (c) 2010, The Brunswick News, Ga.