Just as our physical strength decreases with age, our eyes also exhibit an age-related decline in performance. Your eye health is extremely important.
Some age-related changes are perfectly normal and don’t signify any sort of disease process. Glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration are examples of more serious diseases that have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as we age.
Some normal, age-related changes include:
Presbyopia is a perfectly normal loss of focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside your eyes. We usually begin to notice changes around the age of 40, making it more difficult to focus on objects up close. We can compensate for these changes for a time by holding reading material further away from our eyes and adding brighter lighting. Eventually we may need to add reading glasses as this becomes more advanced.
- Reduced pupil size
As we age, muscles that control our pupil size and reaction to light lose some strength. This causes the pupil to become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting. Because of these changes, people in their 60’s need 3x more ambient lighting for comfortable reading than those in their 20’s. We are more likely to be dazzled by bright sunlight and glare, especially when emerging from a dimly lit building. Eyeglasses with photochromic lenses or sunglasses can help reduce this problem.
- Dry eyes
As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears. This is particularly true for women after menopause. If you begin to experience a burning sensation, stinging or other eye discomfort related to dry eyes, use artificial tears as needed throughout the day for comfort. Consult your eye doctor for other options, such as prescription dry eye medications.
- Loss of peripheral vision
Aging also causes a normal loss of peripheral vision, with the size of our visual field decreasing by approx. 1 to 3 degrees per decade of life. By the time we reach our 70’s and 80’s, we may have a peripheral visual field loss of 20 to 30 degrees. This loss of peripheral vision increases the risk of automobile accidents, make sure you are more cautious while driving. To increase your range of vision, try turning your head from side to side, looking both ways.
- Decreased color vision
Cells in the retina that are responsible for normal color vision decrease in sensitivity as we age, causing colors to become less bright and the contrast between colors to be less noticeable. In particular, blue colors may appear faded or “washed out”. While there is no treatment for this normal, age-related loss of color vision, you should be aware of this if needing fine color discrimination (ie: work related tasks, taking medications, etc).
- Vitreous detachment
As we age, the gel-like interior of the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina, causing “spots and floaters” or sometimes flashes of light. This is usually a harmless, age-related condition. But sudden onset could also be a sign of a detached retina, a serious problem that can cause blindness if not treated immediately. If onset of “spots and floaters” is sudden, see your eye doctor immediately to determine cause.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness and if left untreated, glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals vision. It develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. Most people feel fine and do not notice a change in their vision at first because the initial loss of vision is of side (peripheral) vision, and the visual acuity (sharpness) is maintained until late in the disease. By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced.
In most types of glaucoma, the eyes drainage system becomes clogged, so the intraocular fluid cannot drain. As the fluid builds up, it causes pressure to build within the eye. High pressure damages the sensitive optic nerve and results in vision loss.
Glaucoma can affect anyone, from babies to seniors, but people over 60 years old are at higher risk. Glaucoma is not curable, and once vision is lost, it cannot be regained. However, with medicine and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Open-angle glaucoma (the most common type) is a chronic condition and must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step in preserving your vision, so having regular eye exams with a licensed eye specialist are stressed.
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens, which lies behind the iris and the pupil. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40, and a principal cause of blindness in the world. There are more cases of cataracts worldwide than glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy combined, according to Prevent Blindness America.