Eye Problems: What to Expect as You Age

Your eyes change as you age. Some problems become more common as you get older, although they can affect anyone at any age.

Presbyopia is when you can’t see close objects or small print clearly. It’s a normal process that happens slowly over your lifetime. You may not notice any change until around age 40. It’s easy to correct with reading glasses and contacts.

Floaters are tiny spots or specks that drift across your field of vision. You’ll probably notice them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. They’re mostly normal, but they can signal a more serious eye problem. If you see them along with flashes of light, your retina might be detached from the back of your eye. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes you see, visit your eye doctor as soon as you can.

Dry eyes happen when your tear glands can’t make enough tears or produce low-quality tears. Your eyes might itch, burn, or turn red. It’s rare, but if you don’t take care of it, you could lose some vision. Your eye doctor may suggest a humidifier in your home or special eye drops that simulate tears. Doctors treat severe cases with tear duct plugs, prescription eye drops, or surgery.

Tearing, when your eyes make too many tears, can happen if you’re sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes. Shield your eyes and wear sunglasses. If that doesn’t help, you may have a more serious problem, like an eye infection or blocked tear duct. Your eye doctor can treat both.

Cataractsare cloudy areas that cover all or part of the lens of your eye. In a healthy eye, the lens is clear like a camera lens; light passes right through it and hits tissue at the back of your eye. That’s the retina, and it processes images. Cataracts block the lens and make it hard for you to see. They often form slowly, without pain, redness, or tearing. Some stay small and don’t affect your sight. If they cause problems, your doctor can remove them with surgery and replace your lens with an artificial version.

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Glaucoma results from too much pressure inside your eye. If the normal flow of the watery fluid between your cornea and lens is blocked, the fluid and pressure from it build up. If you don’t catch it early, it can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. You may not have symptoms or pain early on, so get your eyes checked regularly. Treatment ranges from prescription eye drops and oral medications to surgery.

Retinal disorders affect this thin lining on the back of the eye. It’s made up of cells that collect visual images and pass them on to your brain. Problems with your retina affect this image transfer. They include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vessel occlusions, and detached retina. Early diagnosis and treatment will help you keep your vision.

Conjunctivitis It happens when the tissue that covers your eye gets inflamed. It can make your eye burn and itch, tear up, look red, or feel like there’s something in it. It affects people of all ages and can result from infection, exposure to chemicals and irritants, or allergies.

Corneal disease affects the clear, dome-shaped window at the front of your eye. The cornea helps your eye focus light. Disease, infection, injury, and exposure to toxic agents can damage it. Symptoms include pain, redness, watery eyes, reduced vision, or a halo effect. Your doctor might adjust your glasses, give you medicated eye drops, or suggest surgery.

Eyelid problems can stop them from doing their jobs: protect your eyes, spread out tears, and limit the amount of light that gets in. Pain, itching, and tearing are common symptoms. Eyelids can also droop or twitch. The outer edges near your eyelashes can get inflamed. Medication and surgery can help.

Temporal arteritis is when arteries in your temple get blocked or inflamed. It can start with a severe headache, pain when you chew, and tenderness in your temple. A few weeks later, you might have a sudden vision loss in one eye, followed quickly by the second. Other symptoms include joint pain, weight loss, and a low-grade fever. Doctors think a damaged immune system causes it. Early diagnosis and treatment with medication can help prevent vision loss. If you suddenly can’t see, get to the doctor as soon as you can. It’s an emergency.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on August 15, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Yanoff, M; Duker, J. Ophthalmology, Mosby, 2008.

National Institute on Aging: "Aging and Your Eyes."

MedlinePlus: "Vision Problems."

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