I remember a first-time patient asking me whether she had passed the eye test. I told her this wasn’t a case of passing or failing, it was simply whether she needed glasses – or not. She did!
Some changes are normal – some aren’t. As we age, we lose certain visual abilities we had when we were younger.
Presbyopia occurs as you pass the age of 40 years. The lens inside the eye begins to lose its ability to change shape and it becomes difficult to focus on objects close up. This does not indicate a disease it simply tells us you probably need reading glasses and, as the years move on, your eyesight will probably decline, and you’ll need a change of prescription. You, however, could chat to your optometrist about corrective surgery options, because those opposed to wearing reading glasses should discuss multifocal lens implants and intraocular lenses.
Cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s natural lens, are common among seniors. For those in the 70s, the percentage increases, so we can include them in the normal-aging category. The reliability of modern surgery makes cataract removal safe and effective and, in most cases, vision loss caused by cataracts can be restored. It’s recommended to have them removed before they are too advanced.
There are other subtle age-related eye changes that happen. These include:
- diminishing muscle strength that causes reduced pupil size making your eyes less responsive to changes in ambient light which means you’ll need more light, when reading and you are likely to be dazzled by sunlight when moving out of a dimly lit building
- dry eye is caused by fewer tears being produced – applying artificial tears relieves the discomfort of dry, burning eyes but, if it continues, consult an optometrist
- loss of peripheral vision, some one to three degrees every 10 years, so remember this when driving
- decreased colour vision because of diminishing sensitivity in the cells in the retina that are responsible for colour vision – colours become less bright and contrasts less noticeable but, if this is due to cataracts, surgery can restore much of the loss
- vitreous detachment, usually harmless, is when the gel-like substance inside the eye liquifies and pulls away from the retina causing spots or floaters – and sometimes flashes of light – but this can indicate a detached retina which is a serious condition and, if not treated timeously, can cause blindness – visit an optometrist straightaway.
The more serious age-related eye conditions that may affect your quality of life, include:
- macular degeneration
- diabetic retinopathy happens over time as diabetes damages small blood vessels in the retina; these vessels leak blood and other fluids causing the retinal tissue to swell, resulting in cloudy or blurred vision – there is treatment for this condition
WHEN DID YOU LAST VISIT YOUR OPTOMETRIST?
If you have any of the following conditions, it’s advisable to visit an optometrist because early detection means a better chance of fighting a dis-ease:
- grey shadow crosses your vision
- black spots in your vision
- loss of vision in one eye
- more floaters than usual
- halos around night lights
- sensitivity to light
- poor night vision
- painful eyes
- symptoms of diabetes
Apart from regular visits to your optometrist, a healthy lifestyle will help keep your eyes functioning at their optimum level.
Common Symptoms at various ages.
In your 40s:
- you probably can’t escape presbyopia (explanation above)
- be aware of dry eye (explanation above) and computer vision syndrome
- have an examination at least every two years, eat a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, that help protect adult eyes from macular degeneration, dry eye syndrome and glaucoma; as well as antioxidants, that help protect your cells against free radicals that are molecules produced when you’re exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation.
In your 50s:
- as above and an increased risk of cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration (explanation above)
- presbyopia advances
- dry eye increases for women after menopause
- at your regular examination, tell your optometrist about medications you are taking – some can cause visual side effects
In your 60s:
- as above, as well as decreased vision in low light
- the need for brighter reading lights
- decreased ability to adjusting to changing light conditions
- spots and floaters – floaters appearing suddenly could be retinal detachment so see your optometrist immediately
- apart from your regular eye examination you are advised to undergo annual physical examinations which could reveal underlying conditions, such as diabetes, causing eye problems
In your 70s and 80s:
- as above, and you have or will probably develop cataracts
- declined colour vision
- narrowing visual field
- cataract surgery is effective
Despite some inevitable, age-related vision changes, your optometrist is there to help you enjoy a lifetime of healthy eyes.