As you get older, you may notice some changes in your ability to see. Just as your body works a bit differently than it once did, the same rules apply to your vision.
Many of these changes are common. Some can be managed with simple lifestyle adjustments and advice from your optometrist or ophthalmologist. Others are a sign of an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.
It’s important to recognize when to talk with your eye doctor about troublesome changes to your vision. Here’s what to know.
Many people experience subtle differences in their vision as they reach middle age and the decades that follow. They can include:
- Trouble seeing up close. The formal term for this is presbyopia, and it generally starts after age 40. You may hold things further away or use a magnifying glass to read.
- Problems distinguishing colors. It may take longer to distinguish shades of color than it used to, such as seeing how much black coffee is left in a dark blue mug.
- Slower adjustment to light changes. As you move from dimly lit to brightly lit rooms or areas, or vice versa, it can take longer than it used to for your eyes to adjust.
The good news? Taking small steps, like changing the lighting in your home and getting glasses or contact lenses can help you start to see better again.
There are a number of eye conditions you’re more likely to develop as you age. Recognizing the early signs of these can improve the chances of effective treatment.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the gradual loss of central vision. Objects may seem blurry, shapes may look distorted, or you may see a dark or empty spot at the center of your field of vision.
With the more common form, known as dry AMD, vision loss can be slowed or prevented with eye-friendly nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
The less common type, known as wet AMD, can cause rapid, severe vision loss. Though early treatment, which can include eye injections or laser treatment, can help preserve your vision.
Cataracts, or blurry spots in your eye lens, are common as you age.
Symptoms of cataracts are light sensitivity, double vision, blurred vision, or reduced night vision. Cataracts are treatable with surgery, which corrects the associated vision problems.
People who have diabetes may develop diabetic retinopathy. This eye condition is caused by high blood sugar levels in the body, which can damage blood vessels in the retina.
Early signs of diabetic retinopathy include seeing spots, blurry vision, poor night vision, or a dark spot at the center of vision. Left untreated, it can lead to blindness.
Keeping blood sugar levels under control can help prevent diabetic neuropathy or slow its development. If you do develop diabetic neuropathy, depending on the severity, it can be treated with laser surgery or eye injections.
Many people experience dry eye, though it becomes more common as you get older. It’s known to affect women in particular as they age. Your eyes may sting, burn, have a sandpaper-like feeling, as the tear gland aren’t working properly to lubricate the eyes.
Dry eye is treatable with eye drops, ointments, or home remedies like humidifiers that increase the moisture in the air.
As the years go by, you may experience changes in your eyelid health.
You may start to notice inflammation in the eyes, known as blepharitis. This can make your eyes red, sore, and feel swollen. Eye drops, warm compresses, lid scrubs, and antibiotics are all possible treatments for eyelid inflammation.
Your eyelids may also start to lower or droop. Some people have a tired or baggy look around the eyes. When the lower lid drops due to muscle weakness or nerve damage, it’s called ptosis. Excess skin around the eyes is called dermatochalasis.
These conditions can affect your vision, but they are treatable with surgery. Some people with ptosis may also use a prescription eye drop to raise the eyelid.
Floaters appear like small specks or lines in your field of vision. This happens when clumps of cells form inside the eye cast shadows on the retina.
Floaters usually don’t require treatment. But if start to notice a lot of new floaters suddenly or your vision becomes obstructed, it could be a sign of retinal tear or detachment. These are serious conditions that require immediate treatment.
Glaucoma is a condition where fluid builds up in the eye and damages the optic nerve. Left untreated, glaucoma can result in vision loss. It’s the main cause of blindness in people over age 60.
Most people don’t experience any symptoms of glaucoma until there is some vision loss. Regular screenings can help detect glaucoma and treat it to prevent blindness. Treatment options include medications or surgery to decrease pressure in the eye.
Some people experience vision changes with age that interfere with daily tasks, which can’t be corrected with glasses. This is called low vision.
People with low vision may have trouble reading street signs, recognizing faces, or have trouble with tasks like cooking due to an inability to see well. An eye doctor can diagnose low vision. A vision specialist can recommend aids to help, like magnifying glasses.
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina becomes separated from the tissue of the eye. Symptoms include flashes of light, loss of central vision, a shadow curtain obstructing vision, and a rapid increase in floaters.
Comprehensive routine eye exams can help screen for retinal detachment. The earlier it’s caught, the better. Left untreated, it can result in vision loss. Your doctor may use eye injections, lasers, or cryotherapy to treat the condition.
There are many things you can do to promote eye health as you age. Making lifestyle changes can help prevent many eye conditions associated with aging.
- Quit smoking, if you smoke. Smoking increases your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet. Certain nutrients like lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc help promote eye health and prevent certain eye conditions. Incorporate plenty of leafy green vegetables, fruits, nuts, and fish into your diet.
- Stay active and maintain a healthy weight. Obesity may increase the risk for glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and other eye conditions.
- Manage other health conditions. Keeping high blood pressure and diabetes in check can help prevent conditions like diabetic neuropathy that can otherwise lead to vision loss.
- Wear sunglasses. Protecting your eyes from ultraviolet light when you’re outdoors can help you maintain your vision.
- Schedule regular eye checkups. An annual eye exam with an ophthalmologist or optometrist can help you catch eye problems early and get any necessary treatment before they can lead to issues like vision loss.
Staying in good overall health can also help you to feel better physically and mentally. This can help you better navigate changes to vision that may come with aging.
Your eyesight changes as you get older. Some of these changes are manageable with lifestyle adjustments, like wearing glasses and adjusting the lighting in your home.
Taking care of your overall health can help promote eye health as you age. Scheduling regular eye exams can also detect serious eye conditions where early treatment can help prevent vision loss.