Your eyes and aging
Posted May 27, 2014 by Rachida Bouhenni, PhD
Like any other part of the body, your eyesight can be affected by age. Some age-related eye problems are quite common and can be easily treated, others can be serious. The key is to detect them early so that you can prevent or correct them and protect your vision. Therefore, having regular eye exams is important to detect these age-related problems/diseases early.
Here are some common eye problems that can be easily treated, but need to be monitored as they can be signs of more serious issues:
- Presbyopia is the gradual loss of ability to see close objects or small print which starts usually after the age of 40-45 years1. People with presbyopia often have headaches or strained, tired eyes. The problem can be fixed with reading glasses.
- Floaters or flashes are small moving objects that seem to float across your vision and that can be noticeable when you look at something bright. Floaters can be a normal part of aging, but sometimes they are a sign of a more serious eye problem such as retinal detachment2. If you see many new floaters and/or flashes of light, see your eye care professional right away. This is a medical emergency.
- Eyelid problems: These include red and swollen eyelids, itching, tearing, and crusting of eyelashes during sleep. These problems may be caused by a condition called blepharitis and treated with warm compresses and gentle eyelid scrubs.
Eye diseases and disorders common in aging adults:
- Cataracts: Cloudiness of the lens which leads to blurred or hazy vision. Cataract surgery which is a safe and common treatment can restore your good vision.
- Glaucoma: Accumulation of fluid inside the eye which leads to elevated pressure inside the eye. It is asymptomatic and irreversible and if not treated, it can lead to blindness. Having regular dilated eye exams, will help in detecting glaucoma. Treatment includes prescription eye drops to reduce pressure, lasers, or surgery.
- Dry eye: A condition that happens when there are not enough tears produced. It is associated with itching, burning, or other discomfort. Dry eye is more common in older adults, especially women3 due to hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause. Treatment includes the use of a home humidifier, special eye drops (artificial tears) or ointments.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD is a common eye condition and a leading cause of vision loss among people age 50 and older. It causes damage to the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision which lets us see objects that are straight ahead.
During a dilated eye exam, your eye care professional will look for signs of AMD. Currently there is no treatment for AMD, but research is ongoing and some clinical trials have shown that vitamins may slow the progression of AMD.4,5
- Diabetic retinopathy: May occur in diabetic people, it develops slowly and there no early warning signs associated with it. If you have diabetes, be sure to have a dilated eye exam at least once a year. Keeping your blood sugar under control can prevent diabetic retinopathy or slow its progression. Laser surgery can sometimes prevent it from getting worse.
- Retinal detachment: The retina is the light-sensitive layer of tissue that lines the inside of the eye and sends visual messages through the optic nerve to the brain. Retinal detachment happens when the retina separates from the back of the eye. If not promptly treated, it can cause permanent vision loss. If you see new floaters or light flashes, or if it seems like a curtain has been pulled over your eye, go to your eye care professional right away. With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can prevent loss of vision. Research is also ongoing to develop better treatment for this condition.
Rachida Bouhenni, PhD
Summa Health System
- Papadopoulos PA, Papadopoulos AP. Current management of presbyopia. Middle East Afr J Ophthalmol. Jan 2014;21(1):10-17.
- Kahawita S, Simon S, Gilhotra J. Flashes and floaters - A practical approach to assessment and management. Aust Fam Physician. Apr 2014;43(4):201-203.
- Maissa C, Guillon M. Tear film dynamics and lipid layer characteristics--effect of age and gender. Cont Lens Anterior Eye. Aug 2010;33(4):176-182.
- Chew EY, Clemons TE, Sangiovanni JP, et al. Secondary analyses of the effects of lutein/zeaxanthin on age-related macular degeneration progression: AREDS2 report No. 3. JAMA Ophthalmol. Feb 2014;132(2):142-149.
- Bonds DE, Harrington M, Worrall BB, et al. Effect of Long-Chain omega-3 Fatty Acids and Lutein + Zeaxanthin Supplements on Cardiovascular Outcomes: Results of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. May 1 2014;174(5):763-771.