Eye Problems as We Age

Healthy Aging, Healthy Living
on August 19, 2011
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The most common eye problems in the world are all age-related, and nearly all adults aged 40 or over will experience some type of vision change. In some cases, these changes will be mild — a slight blurring of the vision or difficulty focusing at some distances — but it is important to be aware of the warning signs for more serious conditions. Some of the most serious eye conditions have no symptoms in the early stages, and the eye is so delicate that early detection and treatment is absolutely critical to preventing or delaying permanent damage or vision loss.

Focus changes. Most adults over 40 may notice a little difficulty focusing at certain distances, usually close up — it usually starts as a minor issue, possibly requiring reading glasses for someone who once had perfect vision. According to the American Optometric Association, “This normal aging change in the eye's focusing ability, called presbyopia, will continue to progress over time.” Presbyopia is usually caused by a hardening of the lens as it ages. Less frequently, changes in focus may be caused by intraocular pressure that results in a change in the shape of the eye.

Deterioration of eye structures. Macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma are all among the most common age-related vision problems. These are caused by deterioration in various parts of the eye, which often results in some vision loss and, in some cases, can lead to blindness. Macular degeneration is caused by the breakdown of cells in the macula — the part of the retina that detects light. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens, which are caused by deteriorating proteins that clump together and appear cloudy. Glaucoma can contribute to many other eye issues and is generally caused by excessive intraocular eye pressure; it is broadly defined as conditions that lead to optic nerve damage. Most of these conditions are treatable, at least to some extent. Early detection of these and many other eye problems relies on regular eye examinations — no less than one per year.