If you’re squinting through your glasses more than usual, or find yourself holding written materials further and further away in order to see them clearly, you may have reached that time of life when problems with vision are a common occurrence.
Taking care of your eyes and vision as you age should be a part of your overall healthcare. A few routine measures can ensure you will see clearly as the years pass, so you can continue to enjoy the activities you love, no matter what your age.
Your eyes experience aging just like other parts of your body. Often, the first sign of aging of your eyes is the need for an eyeglass prescription change to correct the inability to see objects that are close up, a condition called “presbyopia.”
But you may also require changes in prescription for worsening nearsightedness or astigmatism. These changes are common in people over the age of 40 and should alert you for the need for more frequent visits to your eye doctor.
Dry eye syndrome often occurs with aging. You may begin to notice a gritty feeling in the eyes, a feeling that something in your eye, excessive tearing, blurriness or redness. Dry eyes occur when there are not enough tears produced to properly moisten the eye surface or when the composition of the tears produced is not adequate.
This can be the result of normal aging, certain medications, prolonged computer screen viewing, autoimmune diseases or from working in a dry or gritty environment. A number of medications are available to help dry eyes. Punctal plugs are small devices that are implanted at the edge of the eyes to prevent draining of moisture. Devices are also available to stimulate glands in the eye to produce more moisture.
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eyes that often occurs with aging. The lens of the eyes helps to focus light on the retina to view images clearly, so when this lens becomes clouded, distortion occurs. Cataracts develop slowly over time, and may not be noticeable in the early phases.
However, individuals may later begin to notice blurriness, faded colors, a glare from lights and poor night vision. You may develop double vision in one eye or need to change your eye prescription frequently. Surgery is the standard treatment for cataracts, but it is usually delayed until the clouding significantly impacts vision.
Glaucoma includes a group of diseases that affect the optic nerve of the eye and which can cause blindness if not treated. Individuals may not experience any symptoms until the disease has progressed enough to affect central vision.
Anyone can develop glaucoma, but older people, African Americans, Hispanic Americans and those with a family history of glaucoma are at higher risk. Medications are usually given in the form of eye drops or pills to reduce pressure or limit the production of fluid. Laser surgery can also help the eye to drain fluid more efficiently to preserve vision.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease that affects the macula, a portion of the retina at the back of the eyes. Caucasians, those who smoke and individuals with a family history of the disease are at higher risk for developing AMD.
In the early stages, individuals may not notice any symptoms, but later, they may begin to notice fuzziness or shadowing in the central field of vision. In the “dry” form of AMD, treatment consists of nutrient supplements, such as lutein and zeaxanthin that can help to slow the disease. The “wet” form is treated with laser surgery or laser-light therapy to reduce blood vessels.
Individuals with diabetes must take special care of their eyes, because the disease causes damage to the tiny blood vessels within the eye structure and can lead to blindness. In diabetic retinopathy, blood vessels can swell and leak fluid, causing sudden vision loss. Early treatment is critical to saving vision. Glaucoma and cataracts are also more common in those with diabetes. Regular visits to your eye doctor can alert you to changes in the eye that can signal a problem.
Individuals past the age of 40 should get an eye examination annually. After the age of 60, you should get a comprehensive eye exam that includes dilation and viewing of the eye structures every year. If you have a health condition, such as diabetes, your physician may recommend your see your eye doctor more frequently. These measures will help you preserve your vision throughout your life.
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