The purpose of this column is to inform our readers about published science that supports the role nutrients play in ocular health. However, we also feel strongly about using this space to occasionally remind our readers about the importance of regular eye exams by an eye care professional.

Harvard Medical School published a booklet a few years ago called The Aging Eye. We believe it appropriate to occasionally point out the booklet highlights for our Friday Pearl readers.

Just as hair turns gray with age, bladders weaken and memories lapse, our eyes, too, undergo a metamorphosis. Although these changes are all part of normal aging, some set the stage for more serious eye problems.

As our eyes age, eyelid muscles weaken, and skin becomes more flaccid. This can cause the upper eyelid to droop or the lower lid to sag. Eyelashes and eyebrows may lose their lushness and thin out considerably.

Tear production also drops off, and the oily film that tears provide decreases as lubricating glands in the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the sclera, the white part of the eye) produce less lubricating fluid. These changes can lead to a buildup of mucous, resulting in stickiness or making the cornea dry, and also causing irritation or an uncomfortable, gritty sensation in the eye.

The conjunctiva turns thinner and more fragile with age and takes on a yellowish tinge from an increase in the elastic fibers. The sclera may also assume a yellowish hue from a collection of lipid, or fat, deposits. Calcium may be deposited in the sclera, leading to patches of grayish translucency. The exposed conjunctiva between the lids begins to degenerate, and the cornea can develop an opaque white ring around its edge.

With time, the crystalline lens hardens and loses its elasticity. This makes it more difficult to focus on near objects, a common condition called presbyopia. You might also find that your night vision grows poorer. These changes usually occur simultaneously in both eyes.

The picture painted above is not pretty, but the good news is an eye doctor can help lessen the effects of these normal aging processes. We strongly recommend regular eye checkups, but the warning signs below should never be ignored.

Warning signs that warrant an eye doctor visit

See an eye care professional if you experience any of the following symptoms or problems with your eyes:

• Change in iris color
• Crossed eyes
• Dark spot in the center of your field of vision
• Difficulty focusing on near or distant objects
• Double vision
• Dry eyes with itching or burning
• Episodes of cloudy vision
• Excess discharge or tearing
• Eye pain
• Floaters or flashers
• Growing bump on the eyelid
• Halos (circles around lights) or glare
• Hazy or blurred vision
• Inability to close eyelid
• Loss of peripheral vision
• Redness around the eye
• Spots in your field of vision
• Sudden loss of vision
• Trouble adjusting to dark rooms
• Unusual sensitivity to light or glare
• Veil obstructing vision
• Wavy or crooked appearance to straight lines.

Ellen Troyer with Spencer Thornton, MD, and the Biosyntrx staff

PEARL: Vision is too important to put off seeing your eye care professional for a yearly checkup for those of you over the age of 50, and at least every other year for those under the age of 50. To learn more about Biosyntrx core values and mission statement, click here.