As we grow old, many degenerative changes occur in the eyes. Although regular changes in aging eyes may not harm vision, some can result in severe vision issues.
Let’s discuss common age-related eye problems, their risk factors, and tips for taking care of aging eyes.
Common eye problems in the elderly
Common eye problems that occur in old age include the following.
- Presbyopia: It refers to the decreased ability to see close objects clearly. Older adults affected with presbyopia usually experience headaches or eye fatigue.
- Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD): This disease affects detailed vision, e.g., reading small prints and facial recognition. Moreover, it also results in distorted central or blurred vision.
- Keratoconjunctivitis sicca: It presents with itching, burning, or partial loss of vision and occurs when the eye’s tear glands do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes hydrated. It is also known as dry eyes.
- Cataract: Cataract occurs when the eye lens becomes cloudy due to specific age-related chemical changes in its composition or chronic steroid use. It presents with blurry vision, eye floaters, and flashes. (Floaters appear as cobwebs or specks that float in the vision)
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma refers to the increased fluid pressure inside the eye. This condition requires immediate management as it can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.
- Diabetic retinopathy: As the name indicates, diabetic retinopathy is a complication of chronic uncontrolled diabetes. It can also lead to permanent blindness if left untreated.
- Hypertensive retinopathy: Hypertension or high blood pressure can damage the eye’s retina (back wall). Hypertensive retinopathy generally has no symptoms; however, in some cases, blurred vision and headaches may occur.
- Temporal arteritis
Temporal arteritis is the inflammation of arteries in temporal areas of the head. It usually presents with a sudden loss of vision, pain upon chewing, severe headache, and local tenderness in the affected area.
- Retinal detachment: Retinal detachment is the separation of the retina’s inner and outer layers. In this condition, wavy patterns, dark shadows, and flashes of light appear in the field of vision.
Certain factors increase our risk of developing eye problems in old age. Some of the main risk factors are listed below.
- Advanced age
- Diabetes mellitus
- Family history of AMD
- Cigarette smoking
How can we protect our vision in old age?
Following are some measures that can be taken to protect the vision despite being old.
- A regular check-up by an eye care professional can help diagnose and treat age-related conditions at an earlier stage. After 50, we should get our eyes checked every year by an eye care specialist.
- Keep blood sugar levels and blood pressure within normal limits.
- Treat the underlying cause of vision problems. For instance, surgery is needed for cataracts and lubricating drops for dry eyes.
- Use wearing glasses regularly for presbyopia if prescribed by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. In addition, low vision aids such as telescopic or magnifying glasses are usually required if the symptoms persist.
- Stop smoking and be physically active.
- Lowering screen time can also help protect vision.
When do we need immediate intervention?
Following are some signs of an eye emergency when we need to see an eye care professional immediately.
- Sudden loss of vision or blurry vision.
- Severe eye pain.
- Double vision.
- Redness or inflammation of an eye or eyelid.
- Multiple floaters or flashes of light.
Aging makes our eyes prone to certain age-related vision issues such as presbyopia, cataracts, glaucoma, AMD (Age-related macular degeneration), and retinopathies. These diseases can lead to serious outcomes like partial or complete blindness. However, some measures can be taken to protect our vision in old age. A regular yearly check-up by an eye care professional is the most critical measure, followed by treating the underlying cause or risk factors, healthy diet, smoking cessation, and decrease in screen time.