Changes in Aging Eyes Need Attention

Patient Expert

Recently I went to see the eye doctor. I hadn't gone in a couple of years and one of the lenses on my glasses had started cracking. Therefore, I thought it would be time well spent to see the doctor and make sure my prescription hadn't changed before I got new glasses.

Well, sure enough it had. I also learned that my eye pressure was "really good for someone your age," as the technician put it. However, the eye doctor also shared with me that I had developed tiny cataracts.

It turns out that older eyes are prime candidates for developing issues. "By the age of 40, many people may begin coping with vision problems they didn't have before," wrote Samathi Reddy in The Wall Street Journal. "These might include dry eyes and presbyopia, or an ability to focus on objects that are close up, and can leave people feeling fatigued and headachy by the end of the workday." Many of these changes are due to aging, although some issues are more likely to arise once a woman goes through menopause.

According to the American Optometric Association, middle-age adults are at particular risk of developing vision problems if they have:

  • Chronic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Family history where someone has developed glaucoma or macular degeneration.
  • A job that is very visually demanding.
  • A job that can be hazardous to eyes.
  • Medications that may cause side effects to eyes. These medications may be prescribed for high cholesterol, thyroid conditions, anxiety, depression, arthritis and congestion.

The AOA encourages middle-age women to pay attention and see an eye doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms, since they can be early warning signs of a vision problem:

  • Fluctuating vision - Changes in the clarity of vision can be a sign of diabetes or hypertension. These conditions can damage the retinal blood vessels and cause vision loss that may become permanent.
  • Experiencing floaters and flashers - Although spots and floaters normally are harmless, you should see an eye doctor if you suddenly see more floaters than normal, especially if they're accompanied by bright flashing lights. This situation may be a sign that you may be about to have a tear in the retina.
  • Loss of side vision - A loss of peripheral vision may be a sign of glaucoma. This condition occurs when the optic nerve experiences damage and can no longer transmit all visual images to the brain.
  • Seeing distorted images - If you find that your vision is distorted in that straight lines appear distorted or you have a blind spot or empty area in the center of your vision, you may be experiencing the early stages of age-related macular degeneration.

You also may experience some age-related vision changes that are common (but not harmful). These include:

  • Need for additional light when reading, working or doing other tasks.
  • Difficulty reading and doing close work, since your lenses become less flexible with time.
  • Issues with glare, which is caused by changes within the lens in your eye that cause light to scatter rather than being focused precisely on the retina. This glare can make it more difficulty to drive.
  • Changes in color perception.
  • Reduced tear production, which is especially prevalent after reaching menopause.

So what can you do to protect your eyes? The AOA recommends the following:

  • Make sure you consume antioxidants as part of your diet. Especially focus on lutein/zeaxanthin (green leafy vegetables and eggs), vitamin C (fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (nuts, fortified cereals and sweet potatoes), essential fatty acids and zinc. The association notes that over the past two decades, researchers have found links between eating a nutritious diet and a decreased risk of age-related macular degeneration.
  • Make sure you get the proper UV protection in your glasses.   "Most are aware of the harm UV radiation can do to the skin, but many may not realize that exposure to UV radiation can harm the eyes or that other components of solar radiation can also affect vision," the association cautions. The longer you're exposed to solar radiation, the greater a risk you'll run in developing cataracts or macular degeneration.
  • Make sure you schedule regular comprehensive vision examinations so you can catch any issues early. The AOA notes that adults between the age of 41 and 60 should be examined by a doctor to determine if they are developing eye and vision problems. The association recommends a comprehensive eye examination every two years.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Optometric Association. (nd). Diet and exercise.

American Optometric Association. (nd). UV protection.

Reddy, S. (2013). The crucial years for protecting your eye health. The Wall Street Journal.