Vision changes that come with age
It is natural to develop an eye condition or disease with age. Though some conditions are more serious than others, each should be taken seriously and treated efficiently, under the care of an eye care professional and a responsible patient.
Many eye problems are common in older individuals, though there are some that can affect people at any age. If you believe you are experiencing any of the following eye problems, consult an eye care professional in order to examine your symptoms properly.
Common age-related eye conditions
Age-related farsightedness (presbyopia)
Seeing up close can become challenging with age, particularly around age 40, when age-related farsightedness (presbyopia) begins to occur. This condition makes it more difficult to read smaller print on menus, labels and in books, but it can easily be corrected with reading glasses.
Many who also struggle to see far away opt for bifocals or progressive lenses to correct their nearsightedness and presbyopia. Some vision correcting surgery, like LASIK, is also available, though treatment options may vary from patient to patient.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cataracts are the primary cause for blindness worldwide, affecting nearly 51% of the population. Cataracts are extremely common among older people, and many can expect to develop them naturally with the aging process.
The only way to remove cataracts is with surgery, but patients can usually expect full vision restoration after the procedure.
If you suspect you have a cataract, contact a doctor near you as soon as possible. Treating cataracts as soon as they are detected is important to treat them efficiently, before they advance any further.
It is natural for eyes to produce fewer tears over time. Dry eyes can cause discomfort, stinging or burning, but this can usually be treated with over-the-counter artificial tears. If artificial tears aren’t enough, speak to an eye care professional about other treatment options, like prescription eye drops or other medication for dry eyes.
Serious age-related eye diseases
Age-related macular degeneration
The leading cause of vision loss for those over 50 is macular degeneration. The disease rarely leads to full blindness — it primarily affects central vision, which is needed for activities like reading, driving and even cooking.
The risk for age-related macular degeneration is higher for those over 60, as well as those who have a family history of the disease.
Following cataracts, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness around the world. Glaucoma mainly affects adults over the age of 40, and chances of developing glaucoma increase with age.
Glaucoma can cause irreversible blindness, and since there is currently no cure for the disease, early detection and treatment is critical.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the eyes. It is estimated that 422 million people around the world have diabetes, putting them at risk for developing this eye disease. As with many eye conditions, the risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases with age; in this case, risk increases the longer someone has been diagnosed with diabetes.
How age causes changes in eye structure
Another normal part of the aging process is developing spots and floaters, due to a condition called vitreous detachment. The vitreous inside the eye, which is a gel-like substance, can liquify over time and pull away from the retina, which at times causes flashes of light to pass through the eye.
The condition is common and typically mild. However, flashes and floaters may also be signs of retinal detachment, which should be treated immediately. If you begin to experience either, consult an eye care professional immediately in order to identify the cause.
Change in peripheral vision
A person’s visual field decreases with age, causing a loss in peripheral vision over time. There are other risk factors for peripheral vision loss, such as glaucoma and cataracts.
Pupils decrease in size
Eye muscles change with age — particularly the muscles that control the size of the pupils as well as the response to bright lights. These changes can affect the size of the pupils (making them smaller) and reactions to light.
Thanks to this part of the aging process, older people may need to use brighter levels of light to comfortably read or see around the house.
Treating age-related eye conditions
There are many changes in vision that come with age, but when they are addressed and treated in a timely manner, they can easily be managed.
Annual eye exams are critical in order to best prepare for these changes. An eye care professional can provide instruction, prescription lenses or medication to help maintain overall eye health, which is especially important later in life.
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