Common Age-Related Eye Problems

checking eye problem

In your early twenties, you may have never given a second thought to how good your vision is. 

However, as you age, you may start to experience some common age-related eye problems like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. 

Keep reading to learn more about each of these conditions and what you can do to protect your eyesight.

Key Takeaways

  • A few of the most common eye conditions are glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. 
  • While some eye problems are not preventable, there are other steps you can take to preserve your eye health.
  • Eat a healthy diet, lower your high blood pressure, and clean your contact lenses. 

Why Does Eye Health Decline As We Age?

As we age, our bodies undergo a number of changes. Our skin becomes less elastic, our bones grow weaker, and our joints become stiffer. Unfortunately, age also takes a toll on our eyesight.

Common age-related eye problems include cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. All of these conditions can cause significant vision loss. 

So why exactly does eye health decline as we age? 

One factor is simply the wear and tear that comes with time. Just as our muscles and joints deteriorate with age, so too do the tissues of the eye. 

Another reason is that the aging process decreases the production of important substances like collagen and vitamin A, which help to keep the eye healthy. 

Finally, exposure to UV light and other environmental factors can damage the eye over time. 

Common Age-Related Eye Problems

Our bodies go through various changes as we age. This includes changes to our eyes that can lead to a variety of problems. Here are some common age-related eye problems and their symptoms.

Cataracts

A cataract is a cloudy or opaque area in the lens of the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are age-related and are more common in older people. Cataracts can also be caused by injuries, certain diseases, and prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. 

In most cases, cataracts are treatable with surgery. During cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens. 

Cataracts usually develop slowly and painlessly and may not cause any symptoms at first. However, as they progress, they can cause blurred or dimmed vision, increased sensitivity to light, trouble seeing at night, and faded or yellowed colors. 

If you think you may have a cataract, it’s important to see an eye doctor for a diagnosis. Early diagnosis and treatment can help preserve your vision.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition that causes damage to the macula, a small area in the center of the retina that is responsible for sharp central vision.

AMD is a leading cause of blindness in older adults and is most common in those aged 60 and over. While vision loss from AMD can occur gradually, it can also happen suddenly. 

There are two main types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry AMD occurs when the macula becomes thin and begins to break down. Wet AMD occurs when new blood vessels grow under the retina and leak fluid or blood, which can cause vision loss. 

While there is no cure for AMD, there are treatments available that can help to slow down its progression and improve vision. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to maintaining normal vision.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic Retinopathy is a condition that affects the retina and is caused by high blood sugar levels (diabetes) damaging the blood vessels in the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that receives light and sends signals to the brain. 

Diabetic Retinopathy is more common in older people because as we age, our blood vessels become less flexible and are more easily damaged. Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause these blood vessels to leak or even close off completely, preventing oxygen and nutrients from reaching the retina. This can lead to vision problems, including blindness. 

Diabetic Retinopathy is a serious condition, but it can be prevented by maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. 

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye condition that most often occurs in older adults. It is caused by an increase in pressure inside the eye, which damages the optic nerve. In some cases, this damage can lead to vision loss. Glaucoma typically develops slowly, and many people do not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. 

However, as it progresses, glaucoma can cause changes in vision, such as decreased peripheral vision or difficulty seeing at night. If left untreated, glaucoma can eventually cause blindness or total visual impairment. In fact, it’s a leading cause of vision loss, and there are few treatment options besides medication or surgery.

Retinal Detachment

The retina is a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye that senses light and sends images to the brain. 

When the retina detaches from the back of the eye, it is no longer able to sense light or send messages to the brain. This can cause blindness. Retinal detachment is most common in older people because it is more likely to happen as the eye ages and the vitreous (jelly-like substance) inside the eye shrinks. When the vitreous shrinks, it pulls away from the retina and may even tear it. 

There are several other risk factors for retinal detachment, including family history, previous eye injuries, and certain medical conditions.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears, or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This can lead to inflammation, irritation, and redness of the eyes. 

Dry eye syndrome is more common in older people for a number of reasons. As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears. Additionally, conditions such as diabetes and arthritis can lead to dry eye syndrome. Older people are also more likely to take medications that can cause dryness of the eyes. 

Trichiasis

Trichiasis is the condition where eyelashes grow inwards and irritate the eye. It can cause pain, tearing, redness, and inflammation. In severe cases, it can lead to corneal ulcers and even blindness. 

Trichiasis is more common in older people because as we age, our eyelashes become shorter and more brittle. This makes them more likely to turn inwards and grow into the eye. 

If you have trichiasis, it’s important to see an eye doctor to determine the best treatment for you. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the offending eyelashes. With treatment, trichiasis can be controlled, and serious complications can avoided.

Eyestrain

Eyestrain is a type of pain that affects the muscles and tendons in your eyes. It’s more common in older people because the muscles and tendons around your eyes become less elastic as you age. 

Eyestrain can also be caused by staring at a computer screen or other digital device for long periods of time. 

If you have eyestrain, you may notice symptoms like headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision, or neck and shoulder pain. While eyestrain is usually not serious, it can be painful and disruptive.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition that affects the eyelids, causing them to become red, itchy, and inflamed. It is a common condition, and it is more likely to occur in older adults. 

There are several possible causes of blepharitis, including bacterial infection, allergies, and skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis. In most cases, blepharitis can be treated with over-the-counter medications or home remedies. However, some cases may require treatment from a doctor. 

Blepharitis is a relatively common condition, but it can be uncomfortable and frustrating. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for those who suffer from this condition.

Floaters

Floaters are tiny clumps of gel or cells that float in the vitreous—the clear gel that fills the inside of your eye. When you look at a bright scene, such as a white wall or blue sky, you may see floaters more clearly. Floaters usually appear when you are looking at something bright because they cast shadows on your retina, the back part of your eye where images focus. 

Most people have floaters, but you usually don’t notice them until they become more numerous. This can happen as you age and the vitreous gel begins to shrink and clump together. Floaters also may be more noticeable when you look at something light-colored, such as a blank computer screen. 

In some cases, floaters can be a sign of serious problems with your eyes, such as retinal detachment of vitreous hemorrhage. If you have new floaters or flashes of light in your vision, you should see an eye doctor right away to figure out if you have any risk factors or are in the early stages of other types of eye diseases.

What Can You Do To Protect Your Vision?

The good news is that you can do a few things to maintain good vision.

  • Wear sunglasses when you’re outdoors. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can damage your eyes and lead to cataracts. Look for sunglasses that block out 99% or 100% of UV rays.
  • Wear protective eyewear when you’re playing sports or working around the house. A baseball flying off a bat or a piece of wood chips can injure your eyes. Wearing safety glasses or goggles will help protect them.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and optic nerve damage. If you smoke, the best thing you can do for your vision is to quit.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce your risk for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Some specific foods that are good for your eyes include spinach, kale, fish, nuts, and oranges.
  • Get regular eye exams. As you get older, it’s important to have your eyes checked at least once every two years with a dilated eye exam. Early detection is key to avoiding many of these common eye problems. 

The Bottom Line

Most normal changes that happen as you age usually do not affect your vision. However, sometimes they can be signs of a more serious problem. For example, your eyes may start to leak tears when you are in bright light, when there is a lot of wind, or when the temperature changes. You can try sunglasses and eye drops to help with this.

It’s important to be proactive about our eye health and get regular eye exams. The earlier any potential problems are caught, the better chance we have of preserving our vision for years to come. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the symptoms listed in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help from an optometrist.

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