Eight common eye concerns for adults 40 and older
It's a fact of life for adults. Just like wrinkles, slowing metabolism and graying hair, your eyes are eventually affected by age. It's important to understand how your eyes change with age and what you can do to keep them in the best health possible.
Here is a summary of common eye conditions and diseases experienced at different stages of adulthood. Some of these changes are normal, age-related developments. Others may be signs of a vision-threatening disease or condition. But all of these are reasons why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone start seeing an ophthalmologist at age 40 to ensure early diagnosis and treatment that may save your sight.
Beginning in the late 30s and early 40s, the lens in your eye loses flexibility, making it difficult to read up close. This condition is called presbyopia (which literally means "aging eye") and is commonly treated with over-the-counter reading glasses, though other treatments are also available.
Dry eye develops with age and is a common problem for women during pregnancy and menopause. These hormonal changes cause changes in the eye’s tear production. Certain medications can also cause dry eye. If you have dry eye, you may be prone to an eyelid irritation called blepharitis, a common cause of irritation or swelling of the eyelids. In addition to seeing an ophthalmologist, there are many simple things you can do at home to keep your eyes moist.
People in their 50s, 60s and 70s with diabetes are most at risk for this disease. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the small blood vessels inside the retina swell, leak fluid or close off completely due to elevated blood sugar levels. But, you can take steps to prevent diabetic retinopathy with tight control of blood sugar and blood pressure levels. It is also critical to see your ophthalmologist regularly for diabetic retinopathy screening exams.
Cataracts are very common in older people. As you age, proteins in your lens begin to clump together. These clumps, known as cataracts, make the lens less transparent and cause blurry, cloudy or dim vision and increased glare. Many people with the condition describe it as similar to looking out of dirty windshield. Cataracts can interfere with daily activities like driving at night and distinguishing colors. Treatment can include glasses for early stages of cataracts and surgery to remove them.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which transmits visual information to the brain. This damage often leads to loss of side vision. Left untreated, this can lead to complete blindness. Glaucoma is most common in people age 55 and older. One of the problems with glaucoma, especially open-angle glaucoma, is that there are typically no symptoms in the early stages. Many people who have the disease do not know they have it. This is why it is important, especially as you get older, to have regular medical eye exams. Learn more about glaucoma diagnosis and treatments.
Floaters and Flashes
As people grow older, the fluid that fills the inside their eye starts to shrink, forming clumps or strands. These can appear as “floaters” (small specks or lines moving in your field of vision). This fluid can also pull away from the back wall of the eye, causing you to see “flashes” (flashing lights or lightning streaks in your vision). This is normally harmless, but in some cases it can lead to retinal detachment and cause blindness. If you experience new floaters and flashes, it’s important to see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible, especially if you are over age 45, are nearsighted or have had eye injuries in the past.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD affects the central vision, limiting a person’s ability to read and recognize faces. This can be caused by a thinning of the macula (the light-sensitive part of the retina) or by a growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. AMD can lead to blindness if not treated and it is the leading cause of blindness in Americans over 65. But early and regular visits to the ophthalmologists can reduce vision loss and in many cases, recover vision.
So what’s the best defense for aging eyes?
You can keep your eyes in the best shape possible by being proactive. Don’t wait to develop symptoms before seeing an ophthalmologist. The Academy recommends that all healthy adults, even those without symptoms, have a comprehensive eye exam by age 40, as this is when age-related changes begin to happen to our eyes.
After the baseline exam, adults should have comprehensive exams:
• Every two to four years until age 54
• Every one to three years until age 65
• By age 65, every one to two years, or as recommended by your ophthalmologist.
Some adults may need more frequent eye exams if they have a disease or condition that may impact their eyes, such as diabetes.
Learn more tips for slowing the effects of aging on your eyes:
• Top Ten Tips to Save Your Vision
• Sight Saving Habits for Adults to Help Maintain Independence
• Healthy Lives = Healthy Eyes Infographic