We all know that babies and small children go through a lot of abrupt changes in their eyesight as their eyes and brains develop. However, adult eyes go through natural, albeit slower changes, as well. Some changes in vision are unavoidable as we get older, but others can be prevented with good eye health practices earlier in life. Knowing which changes are normal is crucial to managing eye health as we age.
The big 4-0
Typically, age-related eye changes start to set in around age forty. If you start to see drastic changes in vision significantly before this point, you should consult with your eye doctor to make sure nothing serious is going on.
The most common age-related vision change that sets in around this point is an increased difficulty focusing on small, close objects such as font on a computer or in a book. This condition, called presbyopia, will gradually continue to progress over time. While the symptoms of presbyopia are the same as those of farsightedness, they are not the same condition. Presbyopia is a natural result of an aging eye lens becoming less flexible, while farsightedness results from an incorrectly shaped eye.
Presbyopia is typically managed with prescription eyeglasses, although some implants have also been approved for use in patients with presbyopia who have not yet had cataract surgery. For those who already have eyeglasses correcting nearsightedness, adding presbyopia to the mix is often what prompts the switch to bifocals. However, if bifocals are not aesthetically your thing, progressive lenses can offer the same benefits without the obvious “second lens” and many people prefer them for their subtlety.
Age 60 and up
When we hit our sixties, it is normal for presbyopia progression to slow down. Instead, this is the age range where cataracts begin to form. Cataracts are a very common vision ailment that can be corrected with a brief surgery. In fact, most cataract surgeries are able to restore close to 100 percent of all vision lost to cataract formation.
While cataracts may not be classified as a “normal” symptom of ageing, they are both incredibly common and ultimately simple to fix in most cases.
There are a few other common vision changes from this age range that are also not normal, but are unfortunately common. These include retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
- Diabetic retinopathy
Consistently high blood glucose levels can damage the blood vessels in your eyes and cause retinopathy. Left untreated, this condition can lead to vision loss or even total blindness. The best prevention is to avoid excessive sugar intake, even if you have not been diagnosed with diabetes.
Glaucoma is caused by too much pressure in the eye. It is very rare in people who have not yet reached middle age. There are rarely any early symptoms of glaucoma, which means many people miss it until permanent damage has occurred. Keeping a yearly optometrist appointment is the most effective way to handle glaucoma. An eye doctor will be able to detect the condition before it progresses and prescribe treatment to prevent vision loss.
- Macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration occurs as the retina deteriorates. There is no cure, but the condition can be slowed and managed with treatments that include laser therapies, vision aids, medications and vitamins. It is unknown what the exact causes of macular degeneration are. Some of it appears to be genetic while other research suggests that some environmental factors, such as overexposure to sunlight, may hasten the onset of macular degeneration.
Nothing can guarantee complete protection from macular degeneration, but you can lower your odds by wearing 100 percent UV-resistant eyeglasses or sunglasses as often as possible and maintaining a healthy diet.
Abnormal vision changes
As we get older, it can be tempting to attribute all new vision problems to our age. However, there are some vision changes that are never considered normal and should always be examined by an eye specialist.
- Flashes and floaters
Seeing occasional “eye floaters” in your vision is normal, especially as you age. However, if you suddenly notice a lot of floaters or they are accompanied by flashes of light, vision loss, or other symptoms, see your eye doctor immediately. This could be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment.
- Loss of vision
It’s true that our vision weakens with age, but a substantial loss of vision, especially if it is focused in one area, should be promptly examined.
- Vision distortion
It is never normal to experience distortions in your vision. Tell your doctor if objects appear wavy, warped or distorted.
Your eyesight will gradually get worse with age. What it shouldn’t do is fluctuate. If you notice significant changes in your vision that don’t seem like the normal progression of age, schedule an eye appointment.
- Anything else unusual
It’s better to be safe than sorry. If anything else strange happens with your eyesight, give your doctor a call.