Age-related vision changes happen to many people as they grow older. But eye problems aren't something you should simply write off as normal. Some result from new or worsening vision disorders. As you get older, these might happen gradually. Others happen suddenly, quickly causing blindness. That is why regular eye exams with an eye doctor are so important.
You can take steps to lower your risk of age-related vision problems. If you have one, you can slow their progression.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
With AMD, the macula, or central part of the tissue that lines the back of the eye (the retina), becomes damaged. This makes tasks involving central vision -- reading fine print, for example -- much harder. But you do maintain side, or peripheral, vision.
The dry type of AMD affects 9 out of 10 people with macular degeneration. It causes more gradual, subtle vision loss from the breakdown of cells in the retina. For example, you may see parts of letters, or straight lines may appear wavy. The dry type of AMD can develop into the wet type.
Other symptoms include:
- Hazy vision
- Needing extra light or having trouble when going from bright to low light
- Trouble reading or recognizing people's faces
- Colors appearing less vivid
The wet type of AMD causes sudden, severe loss of central vision from leaking blood vessels growing in or under the retina. You may see a large dark spot in the center of your vision, known as a scotoma, or blind spot. If you have these blind spots, see an eye doctor right away.
Other symptoms include:
- Distorted vision
- Objects appearing a different size for each eye
- Colors appearing less vivid or differently in each eye
You may be more likely to get AMD if you smoke, have a family history of AMD, or are obese.
Other risk factors include genetics, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, and a lack of nutrients reaching the retina.
There is no cure for AMD. However, there are options that may slow the progression of wet macular degeneration. These include:
- Anti-VEGF treatment limits growth of new blood vessels in the eye that can threaten vision.
- Thermal laser treatment uses heat to disrupt the disease.
- Photodynamic therapy destroys blood vessels in the eye that are leaking and damaging vision.
Your doctor may recommend taking certain vitamins and minerals – including zinc, vitamins C, E, and lutein and zeaxanthin -- in specific doses to slow down AMD when it’s still in its early stages.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that causes vision loss. With glaucoma, high pressure inside the eye or poor circulation causes damage to the optic nerve. This nerve carries images from the eye to the brain.
The more common forms of glaucoma develop slowly and show no clear symptoms early on. You may not know you have it. But it can cause blindness. Age makes it more likely, as do these things:
- A family history of glaucoma
- African or Hispanic ancestry
- High levels of farsightedness or nearsightedness
- Past eye injury
- High eye pressure or low blood pressure
Treatments include eye drops, other medication, laser treatment, and surgery.