You’ve probably noticed changes in your vision as you’ve matured. Maybe it’s not as easy to drive at night as it used to be. Maybe it’s harder to read the small print on food labels. Maybe seeing your grandkids across the football field has become difficult.
Relax. Vision changes are a natural part of aging. Getting routine eye exams is the best way to proactively care for your eyes.
However, as you age, you’re more at risk for eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration. These diseases have no symptoms at first and can develop gradually without your knowing it. This is why it’s important to get regular eye exams even if you don’t wear prescription lenses.
Glaucoma doesn’t have symptoms in the beginning, and by the time you do notice symptoms, the damage has been done. Glaucoma is caused by pressure in the eye building up gradually. This pressure damages the optic nerve, and you can lose your peripheral vision (things you see out of the corners of your eyes).
Symptoms can include eye pain, blurred vision or vision loss, halos around lights, red eyes, sudden visual disturbances (often in low light), and nausea and vomiting (with severe eye pain).
You’re more at risk for glaucoma if you’re over 60 (or African Americans over 40), have a family history, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, or are African American, Asian, or Native Alaskan.
You can slow or prevent further vision loss from glaucoma with medication or surgery, but vision that’s already been lost can’t be restored.
Symptoms of cataracts develop over time as well. It’s a disease that turns your lens opaque when the proteins in the lens break down and clump together. This clouded lens causes dim, foggy, and blurry vision—sort of like looking through a dirty window. You may notice this more when you’re driving at night or in the rain.
As with glaucoma, you’re more at risk for cataracts if you’re over the age of 60 (though they can develop earlier in life depending on your circumstances). Other risk factors include diabetes, UV radiation, some medications (steroids), smoking and alcohol consumption, family history, and nutrition deficiencies.
Although you can’t totally prevent cataracts, you can limit your risk by wearing sunglasses (look for ones that block 100% of UV rays), and eating a diet rich in antioxidants, fish, and vitamins A, C, and E.
If you do have cataracts, you might not need surgery right away. Your optometrist can adjust your prescription to compensate for the problem for a while. You may also need to use brighter lights at home or work. If your cataracts start to limit your ability to read, drive, or do any of your normal activities, your eye doctor may recommend surgery.
Macular degeneration (also known as age-related macular degeneration—AMD or ARMD) is a condition that affects your central vision.
Like glaucoma and cataracts, symptoms develop gradually, and you may not even notice them. Symptoms include difficulty recognizing faces, increase in haziness, blurred or blind spots in the center of your field of vision, and difficulty adapting to low light levels.
Macular degeneration is most common in older white adults. You’re also more at risk if you smoke, have cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, obesity, or a family history of it.
There are two types of macular degeneration—dry and wet. The dry version is the most common (90 percent of cases). Wet is considered advanced macular degeneration; it results in 90 percent of legal blindness. Dry macular degeneration does not always lead to advanced, or wet macular degeneration.
There’s no treatment for dry macular degeneration, though you may be able to slow its progression with vitamin supplements, healthy eating, and smoking cessation. As for wet macular degeneration, there are injectable medications that can help slow its progress and preserve your existing vision.
You may have noticed a theme: eating a healthy diet, not smoking, not drinking too much, and getting proper exercise are not only good prevention for your physical health but also your eye health.
- “Everything You Need to Know About Glaucoma”
- “Keep Your Sight Sharp at Every Age”
- “How Can I Avoid Developing Cataracts?”
- “What are the Warning Signs of Macular Degeneration?”