Aging and the Eye
There are many changes that occur to the eye as a part of the normal aging process. However, as a person ages, risk for various eye diseases such as macular degeneration (a central vision disease) and glaucoma (a peripheral vision disease), increases. A yearly comprehensive eye examination by an eye care provider, optometrist or ophthalmologist, can provide ways to help reduce symptoms that occur as a part of the normal aging process and provide early detection and treatment for age-related diseases. Good nutrition, including leafy vegetables and colorful fruits, is always important to help promote good health for our eyes and entire body. Other tips to promote good ocular health include wearing a hat and sunglasses for UV protection, avoid smoking, and engaging in regular exercise.
Here are a few other age-related conditions to be aware of:
There are a few changes that occur in a person’s eyes as a part of the normal aging process. First, the crystalline lens inside the eye is responsible for helping the eye bring images into focus at various distances, through its flexibility. Over time, the lens loses its flexibility and stiffens, making it more difficult to focus on objects within arms-length. This is called presbyopia and typically begins around the age of 40 and continues from year to year, until the lens can no longer flex at all. Symptoms include tired eyes, eye strain, or blurred vision with near objects and small print. Reading glasses, bifocals, and contact lenses are often ways to help with this age-related change. It is also beneficial to increase the amount of light used during reading tasks in most cases.
Another change related to the normal aging process includes cataract, or a clouding of the lens. Cataracts can develop at different times for everyone, and there are a variety of risk factors that can increase their progression. They can cause symptoms of blurred vision, increased glare, and difficulty with distinguishing colors. An eye care provider can recommend the best time for treatment, which is through surgery. Prior to surgery, certain filters recommended by an eye care provider may help reduce symptoms of glare. Learn more about cataracts.
Our skin is prone to losing elasticity during the aging process and in some cases, eyelids can appear to droop or sag. This may interfere with field of vision or in some cases contribute to symptoms of dry eye. Additionally, as a person ages it is more common for eyelids to become inflamed or irritated, which can cause symptoms of burning, dryness, itching, and overall discomfort. An eye care provider can recommend an appropriate treatment depending on the condition.
Floaters are specks or dots that appear to float in our vision and are often noticed when looking at a blue sky or blank wall. These floaters are actually shadows that we see when the jelly-like material forms clumps or strands inside our eye. Floaters are typically a normal part of the aging process, but can be an indication for a more serious condition called a retinal tear or detachment. If you experience a sudden increase in number of floaters, flashing lights, black curtain in your vision, or other sudden vision loss, you should contact your eye care provider immediately.
Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that occurs during the aging process. It tends to be chronic and results from an incomplete tear film covering the ocular surface. This causes symptoms of blurred vision, fluctuating vision that often clears with a blink, burning, discomfort, redness, and frequent watering. Severity of symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Certain systemic health conditions, medications, hormones, and environmental factors can contribute to dry eye. There are different treatments for dry eye syndrome depending on the type, severity, and underlying cause. An eye care provider can recommend the best treatment for each person.
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Here are some additional resources on this condition:
National Institute on Aging-https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/aging-and-your-eyes
American Academy of Ophthalmology- https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/fighting-signs-of-aging-don-t-forget-eyes
University of Utah Health- https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2016/09/vision.changes.php