Around age 40 many people start to notice changes in their eyesight that increase as they get older. To help people understand what vision changes to expect as they get older and know when to seek treatment for signs of a disease or condition that could cause irreversible vision loss, here are explanations of common visual changes adults may experience as they get older.
Reading a menu or sewing has become increasingly difficult
As the eye ages its lens becomes less flexible, making it harder to read at close range or do "near work." This condition is called presbyopia, which comes from the Greek meaning "aging eye." Nearly all adults experience presbyopia starting around age 40. The most common treatment is simply to use reading glasses.
Eyes suddenly burn or sting and water excessively
While seemingly opposite symptoms, these can be a sign of dry eye. Dry eye is very common as people age, especially in women undergoing hormonal changes that can alter the quality of tears the eye produces. For most people, treatment for dry eye is as simple as using over-the-counter eye drops. If these do not provide relief, an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – may prescribe medication or suggest surgical options.
Seeing clouds float in front of vision or occasional flashes of light
The clouds are actually tiny clumps of cells floating in the vitreous gel, the clear gel-like fluid inside the eye, and are also called "floaters." The flashes of light are caused by vitreous gel pulling at the retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye, as it moves. Floaters and flashes become more common as one ages, but a sudden increase could be a sign of a torn retina and an ophthalmologist should be seen immediately as surgery is often a required treatment.
Colors are muted, lights appear to have halos
These can be a sign of cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens that nearly everyone develops as they age. Treatment for cataracts is usually surgery, which is one of the most common elective surgeries performed in the United States, and has been shown to significantly improve vision and quality of life.
Central vision seems hazy, making it difficult to recognize faces
This is a common symptom of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Because symptoms usually aren’t noticeable until vision loss has already occurred, routine eye exams are essential to help diagnose AMD early to prevent vision loss. AMD has two forms – wet and dry. Treatment for wet AMD usually includes anti-VEGF injections – a type of drug that blocks the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina that cause wet AMD. At this time, dry AMD has no proven treatment but research has shown that certain dietary supplements can help to slow its progression.
Trouble seeing at intersections while driving
Deteriorating peripheral vision may be a sign of glaucoma, a leading cause of irreversible blindness. Vision loss is so gradual that people affected by the condition are often unaware of it until their sight has already been compromised. Fortunately, most vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented with early detection and medical intervention, emphasizing the importance of seeing an ophthalmologist regularly, especially if a person has certain risk factors such as African or Hispanic ancestry and having migraines, diabetes or low blood pressure. The most common treatment for glaucoma is medicated eye drops.