Wise eyes: what to expect as your eyes age
As our bodies age, there are physical changes that also affect our eyes. Although complete vision loss is not a normal part of aging, there are certain conditions or risk factors that, if left untreated or ignored, could contribute. Many factors can influence if or when you’ll experience common age-related eye symptoms. For example, genetics, ethnicity, eye colour, and certain pre-existing health conditions like diabetes are all factors.
As always, make sure to speak with your physician and optometrist about any changes in your eyes or vision. They can help determine if what you are experiencing is normal.
Let’s take a look at the different conditions that are associated with age.
Presbyopia, or up-close reading vision loss, affects most people after age 40 and tends to progress over time. Many people with presbyopia use reading glasses as a solution. You might also hold your smart phone or other objects at arm’s length to better read the text. This is due to the lens of your eye naturally losing elasticity as you age, making it difficult to switch focus from far to near, until eventually affecting your up-close vision. The good news is, there are now more long-term solutions available as alternatives to reading glasses and bifocals to correct presbyopia. LASIK MD offers two procedures called PresbyVisionTM to help you see near, far and everything in between.
While they can sometimes affect young people, cataracts are most common in an older demographic, usually starting to develop during one’s 60s. By age 80, more than half of all North Americans either have a cataract or have had surgery to remove one. They are characterized by a cloudiness over the lens of the eye and cause blurry vision, faded appearance of colours, poor nighttime vision, and sensitivity to glare. An added benefit of our Lens PresbyVisionTM procedure is that it eliminates the need for future cataract surgery.
Many people experience floaters occasionally throughout their life, but they can increase in number over time. Floaters look like small debris that follow your eye movements. You can usually notice them more when looking at a bare wall or a blue sky. Floaters are more common as you age because the vitreous humour (a clear gel in your eye) starts to shrink and sometimes clump up, forming tiny fibres. These cast shadows on your retina and that is what you see moving around.
Although not everyone is destined for glaucoma, it is the second-most common cause of vision loss in Canadian seniors, so it’s important to be aware of the condition. Glaucoma is characterized by an increase in your eye’s pressure. Although not everyone with high pressure will get glaucoma, it’s important to monitor your eye health with regular exams at your optometrist, especially given that there are no outward signs of glaucoma. If you do develop the condition, it can be treated with special eye drops. There is a genetic component to the condition so pay attention to family history, as well as other risk factors like whether you have diabetes or cardiovascular disease.
If you have Type 1 or 2 diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar under control and have regular eye exams to check on the health of your eyes. Diabetic retinopathy is a potential complication from diabetes that leads to bleeding of the retina and can cause blindness. Symptoms might include blurred vision, impaired colour vision, and seeing spots.
Macular degeneration typically affects those above the age of 60 and is the number-one cause of blindness for this age group, which is why it is often referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry.
Wet macular degeneration accounts for about 10 per cent of those with AMD and is often sudden and progresses quickly. People usually experience distorted shapes, blurry vision, and an enlarged blind spot in their central field of vision.
Dry macular degeneration is the most common form. People also experience blurry vision, as well as a small blind spot in the central field of vision, which grows over time.
Both types can include a painless loss of visual acuity, difficulty seeing in bright environments, difficulty adjusting from dark to light, and distorted images.
Other changes to the eyes
There are other ways your eyes change as you age that can have an effect on quality of life.
- Pupil size reduces because the muscles that control it lose strength, so they tend to remain smaller and are less responsive to ambient lighting changes. This means that you might need more lights on around the house to see better.
- You produce fewer tears as you get older, potentially leading to dry eyes.
- You might have drooping eyelids (called ptosis), which could interfere with vision if they droop too low. This usually occurs during one’s 70s and 80s.
- Your eyebrows may descend a bit and as you lose fat around your eyes, may give them a sunken look. This, along with a drooping lid could also cause dry eye if the eyelid does not properly cover the eye.
While you can’t stop time, there are certain dietary and lifestyle changes that can help maintain the health of your eyes. Remember that it’s still important to get regular eye exams to spot any irregularities at their earliest onset.
Eating colourful fruits and vegetables, and supplementing your diet with lutein and zeaxanthin have been shown to help. There were also two large, five-year clinical trials called the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies (AREDS and AREDS2) that found certain vitamins and minerals to be helpful for eye health. The studies found that 15 mg of beta-carotene (like in carrots, spinach, kale), 250 mg of vitamin C (like in broccoli and peppers), 400 IU of vitamin E (like in seeds and nuts), and 80 mg of zinc (like in eggs) could reduce the risk of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by 25 per cent.
Make sure to always protect your eyes by wearing protective glasses if you are working in an environment where particles or other material could enter the eye, wear sunglasses when outside, and stop smoking as this greatly increases your chances of developing certain eye conditions.
Our eyes are one of our most valuable (and beautiful) assets. Despite certain conditions that affect aging eyes, take good care of them and they will take care of you.
If you think you have presbyopia, and don’t want to wear reading glasses, there is something you can do! Book a free, no-obligation consultation to find out if you’re a candidate for our PresbyVision™ procedures.