While regular eye care is important in preserving eye health and good vision for people of every age, older adults are recommended to have thorough eye examinations every year because the susceptibility to vision problems increases with age. With the use of modern technology, eye care professionals are able to diagnose many vision conditions before they become serious, enabling us to continue enjoying active lifestyles for many years to come. In addition, an optometrist can detect early signs of general health conditions, like high blood pressure and diabetes during a thorough eye exam.
As we mature, we begin noticing subtle changes in our vision which, although may cause some concern, are a normal part of the aging process. The following is a review of common eye health/vision problems for older adults.
Presbyopia is one of the most common changes that an older adult may experience. Often developing between the ages of 40-45, presbyopia occurs when the crystalline lens of the eye gradually loses its ability to bring close objects into focus. Eye care professionals can treat this condition by prescribing reading glasses, contact lenses or multifocal lenses.
Macular degeneration, the leading cause of central vision loss among older people, results from changes to the macula, a portion of the retina, which is responsible for clear, sharp vision. Because the macula is the most sensitive part of the retina, seeing detail or vivid color is not possible without a healthy macula. There are several causes for macular degeneration. In one type, thought to be a normal part of the aging process in some people, the tissue of the macula thins and stops working well. In others, fluids from newly formed blood vessels leak into the eye.
Macular degeneration develops differently in each person, so symptoms may vary. The most common symptoms include a gradual loss of ability to see objects clearly, distorted vision, gradual loss of clear color vision, and a dark or empty area appearing in the center of vision.
Early detection and prompt treatment is vital in limiting damage caused by macular degeneration. In a comprehensive eye examination, your eye doctor can determine if you have macular degeneration or if there is another health condition causing your symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to restore central vision once damaged by macular degeneration; however, since it does not affect side vision, low vision aids can be prescribed to make the most of the remaining vision.
A cataract is an opaque film or cloudiness in the eye’s lens. Symptoms include blurred or hazy vision, spots before the eyes and double vision. Because a cataract usually forms over a long period of time, it may be many years before vision is impaired to the extent that the cataract should be removed. In fact, some cataracts never progress to the point that they need to be removed. Therefore, early optometric diagnosis and treatment can help maintain your vision until, and if, surgery is needed. Cataract surgery usually involves removing the eye's natural lens and replacing it with a lens implant and prescribing glasses or contact lenses to help restore vision.
Glaucoma is a condition that occurs when fluid pressure inside the eye rises to a point where the optic nerve is damaged. Because glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, it can destroy vision without a person knowing it.
If left untreated, loss of peripheral (side) vision will occur and may eventually lead to blindness. With early diagnosis and treatment, however, glaucoma can be controlled, and little or no further vision loss should occur. Treatment for glaucoma includes eye drops and medicine. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be required.
Spots and floaters are usually associated with aging, but may be a result of retinal disorders. Symptoms include seeing spots, cobwebs, thread-like strands or showers of brilliant crystals. Although this is often a harmless condition, spots and floaters may indicate underlying eye or general health problems which can often be detected during a thorough eye examination.
The tears your eyes normally produce are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Dry eye occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears or produce tears that do not have the proper chemical composition.
Dry eyes symptoms can result from the normal aging process, a dry environment, vitamin A deficiency, problems with normal blinking, or taking certain drugs, such as oral contraceptives, antidepressants or those used to treat high blood pressure, allergies or heart conditions. Symptoms include itching, burning, scratchy or sandy feeling, light sensitivity, pain, redness, irritation during blinking, blurry vision and mucous-like watering of eyes.
Dry eyes cannot be cured, but the eyes’ sensitivity can be lessened and measures taken so your eyes remain healthy. Artificial tear substitutes are appropriate treatment in most cases. In some cases, small plugs may be inserted in the eyes’ tear drainage canals to slow outflow and loss of tears.
Excessive tears may be caused by eye infection or inflammation, blocked tear ducts, increased sensitivity to light, wind or temperature changes, a foreign body in the eye or allergies.
The most common symptoms are watering eyes or apparent dryness. Depending on the cause of the excessive tears, treatment ranges from artificial tears, to medications for infection or allergies, to irrigation of tear ducts.