Vision and Eye Problems in Aging Adults
There are several eye problems that become more common among people as they age, although they can affect anyone at any age. They include:
- Presbyopia. This is the loss of the ability to clearly see close objects or small print. It is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime, but you may not notice any change until around age 40. Presbyopia is often corrected with reading glasses and contacts.
- Floaters. These are tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision. Most people notice them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters often are normal, but they can sometimes indicate a more serious eye problem, such as retinal detachment, especially if they are accompanied by light flashes. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes you see, visit your eye doctor as soon as possible.
- Dry eyes. This happens when tear glands cannot make enough tears or produce poor quality tears. Dry eyes can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, redness, or rarely, some loss of vision. Your eye doctor may suggest using a humidifier in your home or special eye drops that simulate real tears. Tear duct plugs, prescription eye drops or surgery may be needed in more serious cases of dry eyes.
- Tearing. Having too many tears can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes. Protecting your eyes by shielding them or wearing sunglasses can sometimes solve the problem. Tearing may also mean that you have a more serious problem, such as an eye infection or a blocked tear duct. Your eye doctor can treat or correct both of these conditions.
- Cataracts. Cataracts are cloudy areas that cover part of or the entire lens inside the eye. In a healthy eye, the lens is clear like a camera lens; light has no problem passing through it to the back of the eye to the retina where images are processed. When a cataract is present, the light cannot get through the lens as easily and, as a result, vision can be impaired. Cataracts often form slowly, without pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. Some stay small and do not alter eyesight. If they become large or thick, cataracts can usually be removed by surgery.
- Glaucoma. This condition develops when there is too much fluid pressure inside the eye. It occurs when the normal flow of the watery fluid between the cornea and the lens of the eye is blocked. If not treated early, this can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. Glaucoma is less commonly caused by other factors such as injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels, or inflammatory disorders of the eye. Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain, it is very important to get your eyes checked by an eye doctor regularly. Treatment may include prescription eye drops, oral medications, or surgery.
- Retinal disorders. The retina is a thin lining on the back of the eye made up of cells that collect visual images and pass them on to the brain. Retinal disorders interrupt this transfer of images. They include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vessel occlusions, and retinal detachment. Early diagnosis and treatment of these conditions is important to maintain vision.
- Conjunctivitis. This is a condition in which the tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the eyeball becomes inflamed. It is sometimes called "pinkeye." It can cause redness, itching, burning, tearing, or a feeling of something in the eye. Conjunctivitis occurs in people of all ages and can be caused by infection, exposure to chemicals and irritants, or allergies.
- Corneal diseases. The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped "window" at the front of the eye. It helps to focus light that enters the eye. Disease, infection, injury, and exposure to toxic agents can damage the cornea causing pain, redness, watery eyes, reduced vision, or a halo effect. Treatments include making adjustments to the eyeglass prescription, using medicated eye drops, or having surgery.
- Eyelid problems. The eyelids protect the eye, distribute tears, and limit the amount of light entering the eye. Pain, itching, and tearing are common symptoms of eyelid problems. Other problems may include drooping eyelids, blinking spasms, or inflamed outer edges of the eyelids near the eyelashes. Eyelid problems often can be treated with medication or surgery.
- Temporal arteritis. This condition involves inflammation and blockage of arteries, including those in the temple area of the forehead. It can begin with a severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness in the temple area. It may be followed in a few weeks by sudden vision loss in one eye. Other symptoms can include joint pain, weight loss, and low-grade fever. Scientists think the cause of temporal arteritis is an impaired immune system. Blindness often follows shortly afterwards in the second eye. Early diagnosis and treatment with medication can help prevent vision loss in one or both eyes. Sudden vision loss in one or both eyes is always an emergency.