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Health Briefs

Aging and your eyes

Aging and your eyes

Are you holding the newspaper farther away from your eyes than you used to? Join the crowd—age can bring changes that affect eyesight. Some are more serious than others, but often there are things you can do to protect your vision. The key is to have regular eye exams so you can spot problems early.

Eye diseases and disorders

Some eye conditions are serious and can lead to vision loss and blindness. They may have few or no early symptoms, so regular eye exams are the best way to find a problem early and increase the chance you can keep your eyesight.

  • Cataracts are cloudy areas in the eye's lens that cause blurred or hazy vision. When cataracts grow and reduce vision, surgery may be required to restore vision.  
  • Glaucoma often comes from too much fluid pressure inside the eye. If not treated, it can lead to vision loss. There are no early symptoms or pain, but glaucoma can be diagnosed during regular dilated eye exams and treated with prescription eye drops, laser, or surgery.
  • Age-related macular degeneration can harm the sharp vision needed to do common things like driving and reading. Treatments such as dietary supplements may slow progression of the disease.  If you smoke, quit. Smoking can make AMD progress more rapidly. "Wet" AMD may respond to medication injected into the eyeball, laser or other treatments.
  • Diabetic retinopathy is a leading cause of blindness that develops slowly and with no early warning signs. That's why an annual eye exam is so important for diabetics. Good blood sugar control decreases the chances of getting diabetic retinopathy and may slow its progression, while laser surgery can help manage it once it occurs.
  • Retinal detachment is a medical emergency caused when the retina separates from the back of the eye. If you see new floaters or light flashes, or it seems like a curtain has been pulled over your eye, see a professional right away. With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can prevent vision loss.

Common eye problems

Not all eye problems are so serious. Some are a normal part of aging and can be easily treated.

  • Presbyopia (prez-bee-OH-pee-uh) is a slow loss of ability to see close objects or small print, which can lead to headaches or strained, tired eyes. Reading glasses usually fix the problem.
  • Floaters are tiny specks or "cobwebs" that seem to float across your vision. You might see them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. If you see many new floaters and/or flashes of light, see your eye care professional right away. It could mean your retina has detached.
  • Tearing (or having too many tears) can come from sensitivity to light, wind, temperature changes, or dry eyes, which can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Using eye drops and wearing sunglasses may help. Ask your eye care professional for the best treatment.
  • Eyelid problems can include red and swollen eyelids, itching, tearing, and crusting of eyelashes during sleep. These problems may be treated with warm compresses and gentle eyelid scrubs.  If that doesn't work or you notice changes in your vision, see an eye care professional right away.