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What Happens to Vision as We Age?

By HERWriter
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As we age, it’s inevitable that our ability to see clearly will also change. Some of these changes, such as needing glasses to read or having cataracts, are commonly recognized. Others are more subtle and can cause potentially greater harm to vision.

Presbyopia – Sometime after the age of 40, most of us find that the print on things we’re reading suddenly seems smaller. We may have headaches and tired or strained eyes. These are the symptoms of presbyopia, which is the inability to focus on objects that are close to us. This happens because the lens inside the eye becomes harder and loses some of its ability to change shape as we age. Initially, reading glasses or “cheaters” should be enough to fix the problem. Surgery such as LASIK can correct one eye for close vision while leaving the other eye focused for distance. After age 50, presbyopia worsens and you may find yourself needing multiple strength readers for different situations.

Floaters – These are tiny specks or “cobwebs” that float through your vision. They may be more noticeable in bright light. Floaters can be a normal part of aging. But a sudden flurry of floaters can be a sign that something serious is going wrong in your eye, including a retinal detachment. If you suddenly see a lot of floaters, or have flashes of light in one eye, see your eye doctor right away.

Cataracts – Cataracts are the result of the lens inside the eye becoming cloudy. They can cause blurred or hazy vision that gets worse over time. Some cataracts stay small, while others become large enough to reduce your vision. Cataracts are so common among people over age 65 that they are now considered a normal part of aging, but it is also possible for cataracts to develop at a much younger age.

Cataract surgery is available to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear lens. It’s important to discuss this procedure with your eye doctor early on to prevent the cataracts from causing other problems with your vision. Some replacement lenses have limited ability to change focus. Other lenses are becoming that can potentially change shape to focus like your original lens did when you were younger, which may reduce your need for reading glasses as well as clearing cloudy vision.

Glaucoma – This condition is the result of too much fluid causing pressure to increase inside the eye. Glaucoma can lead to vision loss and even blindness if left untreated. Unfortunately, there are no symptoms or pain associated with this condition to warn you that something is going wrong. It’s important to schedule regular eye exams so your doctor can test the pressure in your eyes. Treatments for glaucoma include special eye drops, laser treatments, or surgery.

Retinal problems – The retina is the inside lining of the eye which is full of light receptors. When light enters the eye, the retina converts the image into electrical impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain, where they are decoded as vision. Disorders of the retina are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. There are a number of age-related conditions that can damage the retina.

Age-related Macular Degeneration can cause holes or missing spots in the center of your vision, making it difficult to do common tasks like driving or reading.

If you have diabetes, extra sugar in your blood can cause damage to the blood vessels that feed the eye, which in turn can damage the retina. This condition, which is called diabetic retinopathy , develops slowly and will be difficult for you to recognize, so annual eye checkups are very important.

Retinal detachment occurs when the retina pulls away from the back of the eye. This usually produces a flurry of floaters in your vision as well as flashes of light. This is a medical emergency that needs to be treated immediately to prevent loss of vision.

There are also changes that can take place in the structure of the eye as we age that can affect vision or cause discomfort. Those will be discussed in a subsequent article.

All About Vision
National Institute on Aging

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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