Seeing Well As You Age
With age comes wisdom, experience and (hopefully) success. Unfortunately, our health tends to decline as we get older. We tend to not see as sharply as we did when we were young. The older we get, the more likely we are to develop eye conditions which result in vision loss. The good news is that modern medicine has made great strides in restoring and preserving eye health.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone undergo an eye disease screening at age 40. This is around the age when the proteins in your eye will begin to break down. This is a gradual process, but might lead to loss in clarity of vision over time. The results of your screening will determine how often you should return for checkups. Individuals over age 65 should have an eye exam every 1 to 2 years, or at the frequency recommended by an ophthalmologist.
Before age 40, the lens of the eye is flexible and soft. A flexible lens can more easily focus on images that are both near and far. After age 40, the lens begins to stiffen, making it harder to read or do fine tasks. This rigidity of the lens is called presbyopia. There is no cure for presbyopia, but glasses or bifocals can make it easier to see clearly.
Other common eye conditions include “flashes” and “floaters.” Flashes appear as lightning bolt-like streaks in your vision. Flashes occur when “vitreous,” the gel-like substance inside your eye, pulls on the walls of the inner eye. Floaters are noticeable when gazing at a plainly colored wall or at a clear blue sky. These worm-like globs dance around your field of vision and can be annoying. Floaters are usually harmless and fade over time. However, if you notice a sudden appearance of new floaters or flashes become frequent, call your ophthalmologist immediately. They may be a sign of a torn retina—a serious condition which can result in blindness if left untreated.
Cataracts are another condition many individuals experience as they age. Cataracts are the most common eye condition in people over 60. Cataracts cause your natural lenses to become cloudy, making your vision faded or blurry. Your doctor may recommend surgery if your cataracts have caused you to be unable to participate in daily tasks.
Glaucoma is a common but serious disease that damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma usually occurs when fluid builds in the front portion of the eye. This puts pressure on and damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years of age. There are rarely any early symptoms, so it is critical that you undergo routine eye exams to ensure you are not developing any eye conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment are key in preventing vision loss.
Another common eye problem is “age-related macular degeneration” or AMD. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in individuals over 50 years of age. The “macula,” which is part of your retina, may become damaged, resulting in loss of central vision. Damage to the macule causes you to be unable to clearly see objects in front of you, but your peripheral (side) vision remains intact. There is no cure for AMD, but your ophthalmologist may recommend treatments to slow your loss of vision.
Individuals with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing certain eye conditions. Diabetics of all ages should schedule regular eye exams to monitor any changes to your eye health. Talk to your ophthalmologist to determine how frequently you should have your vision checked.