While many automatically associate aging with deteriorating and poor vision, this is not the inevitable consequence of growing older. That being said, increasing age calls for increased vigilance with regards to all eye-related matters, as eyes become more vulnerable to certain diseases and conditions.
It is important to attend regular eye tests, as the majority of eye diseases can be treated if they are detected early. These eye tests should include a test for glaucoma. In addition, regular health screenings are important for the detection of diabetes, which causes eye problems if left untreated.
One of the most common eye complaints associated with aging is presbyopia, or the loss of ability to focus on close objects and read small print. This deterioration – a normal part of the aging process – typically becomes noticeable around the age of 40, and worsens slowly over time. The effects of presbyopia are exacerbated by low lighting conditions. Currently, reading glasses, or bifocal glasses or contact lenses are used to remedy this problem. However, a new technology unique to Optical Express will be available early in the New Year.
Another common condition that accompanies aging is the presence of floaters, or small pieces of debris that float in the vitreous humour of the eye. Appearing as spots, threads, or fragments of cobwebs in the field of vision, floaters are typically harmless and should not affect your vision. Floaters cast a shadow on the retina, and it is this shadow that is typically perceived – not the presence of the floater itself. There is normally no treatment advised for floaters.
The sudden appearance of flashes across the visual field, however, or numerous dots moving across the visual field, can indicate retinal detachment. This requires immediate medical attention, as retinal detachment can cause blindness. Like floaters, retinal detachment is more prominent in older populations.
As is discussed more in-depth in our Dry Eyes article, aging also increases the prevalence of dry eyes.
A cataract is a clouding on the crystalline lens of the eye, preventing light from passing through. As the cataract develops, it creates increasing vision loss, and can eventually cause total blindness if left untreated. Cataracts typically affect both eyes, but one eye is normally affected before the other. In addition to loss of visual acuity, loss of contrast sensitivity is also associated with cataracts.
A number of factors increase will increase your likelihood of developing cataracts, in addition to aging. Long-term exposure to UV light can cause cataracts, which is why it is important to wear sunglasses consistently throughout life. Some studies have also indicated that wearing sunglasses can slow the development of cataracts. Exposure to radiation is another contributing factor. Cataracts can also result from diabetes or high blood pressure.
Cataracts are typically removed using surgery, and cataract surgery is one of the most commonly performed. However, the World Health Organization has indicated that age-related cataracts are responsible for 48% of the world’s blindness. This is largely due to the lack of accessible health services in many developing countries.
Glaucoma is another disease common in older populations, often resulting from excessive fluid pressure inside the eye. This pressure damages the optic nerve where it leaves the eye, and can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness. However, damage can be minimised if the disease is detected early. Glaucoma can also result from a weakness in the optic nerve.
As the second leading cause of blindness worldwide, glaucoma often develops undetected for a long period of time, slowly effecting sight. Once the visual field is damaged from Glaucoma, it can never be recovered. Early on, there are very few signs and symptoms of glaucoma, so it is particularly important to attend regular eye tests. Your optometrist will be able to measure your eye pressure, visual field, and examine the condition of your optic nerve. People aged 40 and over are at greater risk for glaucoma, and this risk increases with age. Those with a family history of glaucoma, and in certain ethnic groups, such as African-Caribbean people, also have an increased risk.
Aging also increases your chance of suffering from one of various retinal disorders.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is vision loss resulting from damaged cells of the macula, the small, central part of the retina. The macula is responsible for detail vision, and will impact your ability to see clearly, as well as drive and read. There are two types, ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. The dry form is more common, develops gradually, and results in only mild loss of vision. With the dry form, you will experience a slow fading of colours and blurring in the centre of your visual field. The risk of sight loss is much greater with the wet form, although the wet form accounts for only 10% of macular degeneration cases. With the wet form, new blood vessels grow behind the retina, causing bleeding and scarring which can lead to sight loss. There is no treatment for the dry form, but the wet form can be treated in a number of ways to halt or slow the progression. Treatment for the wet form includes photodynamic therapy, and anti vascular endothelial growth factor treatment.
AMD is a major cause of vision loss in those over sixty, but since the macula is only responsible for central vision, periphery vision remains unaffected. Besides age, a number of risk factors can increase your risk of suffering from AMD. Women are more susceptible than men, smoking increases risk, and sustained exposure to sunlight and UV rays can damage the retina and contribute to AMD. Furthermore, some studies have indicated that certain vitamins and minerals can reduce the risk, as highlighted in our Nutrition for Eyes article.
AMD is not painful, and early symptoms include blurred and distorted central vision. You may also experience sensitivity to light, and perceive lights, shapes and colours that are not there. With more advanced AMD, you may experience a dark patch or blank spot in the centre of their vision, making reading, writing, and facial and object recognition very difficult.
If you notice any symptoms of AMD, it is important to visit your optometrist for an eye test immediately. Even if your optometrist is unable to provide treatment to reduce your sight loss, they can help suggest strategies for making the most of your remaining sight.
Retinal Detachment, as highlighted earlier, is another retinal disorder more prevalent among older populations.
Finally, diabetic retinopathy refers to damage to the retina as a complication of diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness, and often manifests itself early on as blurred vision. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the length of time that you have diabetes, with the majority of diabetics experiencing some degree of retinopathy over twenty years with diabetes. Early diagnoses and treatment of diabetic retinopathy can significantly help slow and stop the damage.