How does ageing affect the Eyes?

Sumayya Vanker - B.Optom (UDW)

Are you squinting or moving your arms further away to read labels on packaging or text on your cellphone of late? You’re most certainly not alone. If you are in your late 30s or early 40s, this is normally the start of a number of changes that occur due to ageing of your eyes.

Whilst some are normal age-related changes, other changes are more serious age-related eye diseases which have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as we grow older. However, early diagnosis through regular eye examinations can help to manage these changes effectively and in most cases, prevent vision loss.

Normal age-related vision and eye changes include:

  • Presbyopia - literally meaning “ageing eye” refers to the lenses in our eyes losing flexibility with age and thus making it difficult to read up close or focus on near objects. It is easily treated with various types of spectacle lenses such as reading glasses, office glasses, bifocals or multifocals, as well as monovision or multifocal contact lenses.

  • Dry Eyes - with age, tear production slows, as do other glands around the eye that produce oil to help keep the eyes moist. It is most common in women during pregnancy and menopause but is now also common in both males and females exposed to long hours of screen time. Depending on the severity, it is treated with a range of artificial tears, heat therapy, laser treatment and Omega 3 supplements which are available at our Spectacle Warehouse stores.

  • Cataracts - is a clouding of the natural lens of the eye causing hazy vision, glare and difficulty focusing. They can take years to develop but are easily correctable initially with spectacles and when more mature, with surgery to implant new synthetic lenses which restore good vision. Cataract surgery is a safe and common treatment which has reached new heights of ease and vision correction.

  • Floaters - tiny specks or “cobwebs” that seem to float across your vision that occur when the jelly-like fluid behind the lens starts to degenerate, usually +/-50yrs of age. Floaters are normal if seen intermittently, however a sudden shower of floaters or flashes of light need to be checked by an ophthalmologist immediately in case of retinal detachment which is sight-threatening.

  • Other common changes - reduced contrast sensitivity and colour perception, droopy eyelids, reduced pupil size resulting in sensitivity to glare, needing brighter ambient light when reading and slower change of focus from dim light into bright light and vice versa.

Major age-related eye diseases include:

  • Glaucoma - a largely hereditary condition that can cause irreversible blindness due to too much fluid pressure inside the eye damaging the optic nerve. Symptoms occur only very late in the disease process hence regular eye examinations every 2 years, from age 40, are necessary for early detection and treatment with eyedrops and/or in more severe cases, laser and surgery.

  • Age-related Macular Degeneration - occurs when the macula (the light sensitive part of the retina) begins to thin with age resulting in loss of essential central vision needed for driving, reading, cooking etc. It tends to be hereditary and appears around age 60 with noticeable vision loss by age 70+. There is no approved treatment however reducing sun exposure with brown/amber tinted sunglasses, eating a diet rich in leafy green vegetables and taking special daily supplements (available at Spectacle Warehouse stores), can help control and delay the progression of the disease.

  • Diabetic Retinopathy - occurs when the small blood vessels inside the retina swell, leak fluid or close off completely due to elevated blood sugar levels ultimately causing partial or central vision loss. Diabetes is also a risk factor for glaucoma and early cataracts. Tight control of blood sugar levels and blood pressure together with annual eye examinations are needed to help slow the progression of the disease.

  • Other sight-threatening changes/disease - Retinal detachment (a MEDICAL EMERGENCY) and numerous medications which can bring about the above changes hence the importance of disclosing all medication that you are taking to your optometrist during your eye examination.

Although after reading this, it may all seem like “doom and gloom”, the good news is that while we can’t stop the ageing process, we can definitely reduce the extent of ageing on vision by being proactive. How? By following a healthy diet and exercise, wise lifestyle choices like not smoking, maintaining tight control of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, protecting your eyes from the sun, using blue control lenses in front of screens and MOST IMPORTANTLY, having regular examinations every 2 years for early detection and treatment of any eye disease.

So, if you are experiencing any age-related vision changes, have not had an eye examination in the last 2 years, or if you would like more information or assistance in treating or managing your symptoms, please book an appointment with us today and we will be happy to explore all options to assist you in making your eyes and vision comfortable.