Age and Eyesight: How to Evaluate Your Symptoms
You just hit 45, and for the first time, you can no longer read the tiny instructions on your medicine bottle. In fact, your eyes feel strained just when you’re reading a book or working on a computer. You’ve never needed glasses before. You wonder, “Are these changes normal?” and “What should I do about them?”
To answer your first question: Yes, these changes are normal. Many people experience vision changes as they grow older, and it’s usually nothing to be concerned about. However, there are certain eye conditions you’ll need to watch out for as you age. Here are some of the most common vision changes due to age—and what you should do about them.
You strain your eyes to read
This is a condition called presbyopia, and it’s extremely common. Why does it happen? When you hit middle age, the lens inside of your eye stiffens, making it harder to change focus. Everyone will eventually experience presbyopia by the age of 60, but some will experience symptoms sooner than others.
Presbyopia is nothing serious, but you will want to do what you can to make reading easier. For some people, the simplest solution is to pick up a pair of reading glasses, which can be found at your local drug store, or to take off your distance glasses to read. For most people, they need more specific solutions like progressive or bifocal prescription glasses, or multifocal contacts.
You need more light to read
When you get older, the muscles that control your eyes’ reaction to light get weaker. Thus, it’s perfectly normal—and important—to use more light when you read.
You see spots and floaters
Occasionally, you may notice shadows of particles or spots floating within your range of vision. These are normal and usually do not disrupt your vision except for being a bit of a nuisance.
However, if you begin to see bright, flashing lights along with the floaters, you might be experiencing a retinal tear or even retinal detachment. Retinal detachment means that the retina, the seeing tissue layer at the back of your eye, is detached from the back of the eye; this could cause vision loss, so see an optometrist immediately. The optometrist can diagnose a retinal tear or detachment and refer you to an ophthalmologist that can perform surgery in attempt to restore your vision.
Your vision is clouded
As you age, clouding vision is normal; this occurs because the proteins in the lens of your eye clump together causing a change in the colour and clarity of the lens, in a condition called cataracts. Symptoms of hazy vision or a film over your vision may suggest that you are developing cataracts. You may also notice that colours are becoming more difficult to distinguish and that you are experiencing more glare from sun, car or street lights, and are requiring more light to read. As cataracts develop, changing your eyeglass prescription and using more light when you read may help your symptoms to a certain degree. However, if the haze is significant, an optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist to perform surgery and place an artificial lens in your eye.
Your vision fluctuates
Perhaps you can see perfectly fine at times, but at other times, your vision becomes poor or greyed out. Diabetes and hypertension are big contributors to this condition. These conditions need to be treated right away before more permanent vision loss occurs. See an optometrist before these vision changes become permanent.
You have a hard time seeing what’s on your sides (decreased peripheral vision)
You may notice that your peripheral field of vision is getting smaller. This may be part of the aging process, but it also may be associated with an eye disease called glaucoma. Glaucoma is a progressive disease that is usually non-symptomatic and can, if untreated, reduce your peripheral vision. If you notice a change in your peripheral vision, make an appointment with your optometrist to evaluate the cause.
Your eyes are constantly dry
Dry eye syndrome happens to many aging adults. Your eyes produce fewer tears as you age and environmental and anatomical factors can influence the quality of your tears. Symptoms of burning, itching, watering, and fluctuating vision are common symptoms associated with dry eye.
See if non-prescription artificial tears (like Systane or Refresh) will solve the problem. Other recommendations may be recommended for your type of dry eye condition once your optometrist evaluates your eyes.
Changing Vision: What to Do Now
As you can see, vision change as you age is inevitable. Some changes cannot be prevented, but others are potentially dangerous and need to be addressed immediately.
If your vision changes are slight, you may be able to correct them with a pair of inexpensive reading glasses. Most vision changes may require prescription glasses or other treatments.
Even if you’ve never been to an optometrist before, now is a good time for a checkup. He or she can evaluate whether the symptoms you are experiencing are something that needs to be addressed. Ideally, you should see an eye doctor at least every two years if you're between the ages of 19-64 and yearly if you are over the age of 65; more frequently if you have vision problems.
In the meantime, take care of your eyes. When you read, wear reading glasses and make sure there is enough light. Wear sunglasses when necessary, and eat foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids and important vitamins and minerals. These include salmon, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, spinach, and beans.
Following these steps will help you ride out age-related vision changes with ease.