The Secret to Aging Gracefully Through Your Eyes

By Dr. Elise Brisco, O.D., FAAO, FCOVD

Your eyes are a telltale sign for your age. Eyes age both inside and outside which affects how you look, and your ability to see. Your eyes are also your main connection to the world. 80% of the brain is related to visual function, and 80% of the information you receive is through the visual system. Vision guides your hands and body, affects balance, gives meaning to your environment, and is strongly related to academic, athletic and executive achievement. Your eyes are so important to enjoy life!

Many of my patients are surprised to learn that their eyes have changed due to age. People often take their eyes and health for granted. As you get older, your whole body ages, not just your face and skin. There are lots of changes going on internally that need to be addressed. When you start getting older, sometimes just changing your glasses or contact lens prescription isn’t enough to improve your eyesight anymore!

External aging is easy to see. When someone talks to you, they look at your eyes more intently than anywhere else on your body, and more than anything you are wearing.

People judge your character, your worthiness, and your age by the appearance of your eyes. This is why it is extremely important to keep yourself, and your eyes healthy to look your best.

These are some of the signs of aging outside your eyes:

  • Wrinkles around the eyes such as “Crow’s feet” or “smile lines”
  • Yellowish spots on the sclera or white parts of your eyes
  • An overall dullness which accompanies the loss of that “twinkle in your eye”
  • Sagging eye lids
  • Dark circles under your eyes

Telltale signs of aging inside your eyes:

  • Difficulty seeing close up especially small print or in dim light (usually begins in your 40’s). If you have to hold things further away to read, or have difficulty reading a menu in a dark restaurant, presbyopia could be starting.
  • Needing more light to see
  • Colors, especially blues and greens, are difficult to appreciate
  • It takes longer to read, to identify street signs, and to see in general
  • Glare or haloes around objects
  • Missing part of vision

All of the above can be due to an aging of the tissues and muscles of the eyes.

I always advise my patients that there are plenty of ways you can help your eyes and visual system age gracefully. It all starts with holistic or whole body wellness. Healthy body means healthy body parts, including the eyes. This includes diet, exercise, and stress management. Many health problems affect the eyes, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high stress, so to keep your eyes healthy you must keep your whole person healthy.

A healthy diet for your body is also a healthy diet for your eyes. Our bodies do not produce all of the necessary nutrients and vitamins for optimal health. That is why it is important to consume a healthy diet to supplement our bodies. This in turn will keep your eyes healthy and functioning at a high level throughout your life.

Here are two top food groups which are essential to your eyes:

  • Foods rich in anti-oxidants such as green and orange fruits and vegetables (kale, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc.): slow down oxidation or aging of cell tissues which leads to cataracts, macular degeneration, etc.
  • Vitamin A (beta carotene) also helps protects the exposed part of the eye from bacteria and viruses.
  • Fish oils and hydrating foods, help you to produce more tears, and better quality tears which keep your eyes bright and shiny, and comfortable. We lose approximately 30% of our tear making capacity with age as tear glands atrophy

Vitamins are beneficial to ocular health and wellness. The nutrients can come from both food sources, as well as vitamin supplements. For example, vitamins A, C, E, zeazanthin, lutein, zinc, and selenium, are especially important for your eyes’ health.

I also incorporate homeopathic remedies into my wellness treatment regimens for certain patients who can benefit. Homeopathic medicine is safe enough for infants and nursing mothers to use, but very effective. Homeopathic medicine proactively triggers a healing response, instead of suppressing symptoms or being an immunosuppressant.

For example, there are homeopathic medicines that can remedy the following problems:

  • reverse some aspects of cataracts and slow down future changes
  • support optic nerve health by improving circulation to the nerve
  • help repair oxidative damage to the macula
  • decrease vitreous floaters
  • stimulate tear production for dry eyes

Sun protection is also very important to slow down aging around and inside the eyes. Excessive and cumulative exposure to ultraviolet damages eye tissues. It can lead to wrinkles and brown spots around the eyes. The majority of sun damage occurs before you are 18 years old, so encourage your children to wear sunglasses and hats while outdoors.

Inside the eyes too much UV exposure contributes to problems such as oxidation or clouding of the lens (cataracts), and more rapid aging or degeneration of the macula and retina (macular degeneration). It is important to get sunglasses with optical quality lenses and a UV400 coating that filters out UVA and UVB rays.

If you are getting sunglasses from a non-reputable source, you could be getting dark, tinted lenses without adequate sun protection. In fact, it is better to wear no sunglasses, than to wear one without a proper UV filter. When the eye is behind a dark lens, the pupil opens up to let in more light and more UV damage can occur if the dark lens doesn’t have complete UV protection. If you don’t have sunglasses on, at least your pupil will constrict in the bright light, thus letting in less sunlight. The best option though, is to wear a good pair of sunglasses with complete UV protection from a reputable manufacturer.

Not enough doctors incorporate natural and homeopathic treatments into their practice so do your homework and look for one. Many patients are pleasantly surprised when I give them alternate treatment choices, as well as ways to keep their eyes healthy between visits.

Exercise benefits your eyes the same way physical exercise benefits your mind and body. Cardiovascular exercise pumps oxygen and increases circulation to the optic nerve in the eyes which is helpful for patients who are at risk for glaucoma. Exercises specific to the eyes can also improve circulation, relax focus, discourage progression of myopia (nearsightedness), and improve focusing ability that is lost with aging (presbyopia).

Therapeutic eye exercises (Vision Therapy) can improve your productivity, comfort and accuracy while performing visual tasks such as reading, computer use, and sports. If your eyes do not work well together you could have the following problems:

  • Decreased ability to walk your eyes across the page to input information
  • Decreased speed and accuracy of tracking
  • Impaired depth perception for sports, driving or watching 3D movies
  • Headaches, eyestrain
  • Double vision or ghost images
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Poor eye hand coordination
  • Clumsiness
  • Tilting or turning head while reading, closing one eye while reading
  • Slow reader
  • Not performing to potential in school, sports or work

I myself did Vision Therapy to treat an eye teaming problem that was interfering with my comfort and productivity in college and grad school. Before doing Vision Therapy, I would see double vision within 15-20 minutes of reading, and was clumsy when playing ball or tennis.

When I was taking classes to treat patients who have eye tracking, teaming or perceptual problems, I realized I personally had a functional vision problem that could be treated. I wish the problem was detected earlier because it could have saved me a lot of frustration throughout the years. Now I read faster, retain more, and enjoy playing tennis regularly because I can judge where the ball is much better!

Inside the eyes too much UV exposure contributes to problems such as oxidation or clouding of the lens (cataracts), and more rapid aging or degeneration of the macula and retina (macular degeneration). It is important to get sunglasses with optical quality lenses and a UV400 coating that filters out UVA and UVB rays. If you are getting sunglasses from a non-reputable source, you could be getting dark, tinted lenses without adequate sun protection.

In fact, it is better to wear no sunglasses, than to wear one without a proper UV filter. When the eye is behind a dark lens, the pupil opens up to let in more light and more UV damage can occur if the dark lens doesn’t have complete UV protection. If you don’t have sunglasses on, at least your pupil will constrict in the bright light, thus letting in less sunlight. The best option though, is to wear a good pair of sunglasses with complete UV protection from a reputable manufacturer.

You can take charge of the health and aging of your eyes by incorporating the healthy practices I discussed above. In the same manner that eating correctly and exercising can keep your body fit and trim longer, you can keep your eyes looking and seeing beautifully for many more years, by starting now with a holistic approach to vision and health care. Traditional vision care tends to be more reactive, treating problems after they happen. Such as prescribing stronger reading glasses every year, or waiting until your cataracts get “bad enough” to do surgery.
I recommend being proactive about your health by using wellness care. Start by seeking an Optometrist, preferably a doctor who incorporates Integrative or Holistic principles into their practice. Couple this with a good diet, regular exercise, and stress management to put positive energy into your life, and you are well on your way to aging gracefully inside and out.

About the Author

Dr. Elise Brisco is an optometrist and founder of the Hollywood Vision Center.

One of her special interests is Children’s Vision. Since vision problems interfere with learning, the Hollywood Vision Center – Optometry provides vision screenings at over 40 schools in the area. The practice also has a complete Vision Therapy department.

Some of her other specialties include Rehabilitative Vision, Vision Therapy, Sports Vision, Strabismus and Amblyopia.

Dr. Brisco has been interviewed and quoted in the media many times throughout the years nationally and internationally. Interviews include NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, MTV,KTLA New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and many more

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