Dr. MJ Bazos MD,
Did you know that many older people have good
eyesight into their 80s and beyond? Growing older does not always mean you see
poorly. But age brings changes that can weaken your eyes.
There are some easy things to try when
these changes happen. You might add brighter lights in more places around the
house—like at work counters, stairways, and favorite reading places. This
may help you see better and can sometimes prevent accidents caused by weak
While older people have more
eye problems and eye diseases than younger people, you can prevent or correct
many of them by:
•Seeing your doctor regularly to check for
diseases like diabetes, which could cause eye problems if not treated.
•Having a complete eye exam with an eye
specialist every 1 to 2 years. Most eye diseases can be treated when they are
found early. The eye doctor should enlarge (dilate) your pupils by putting drops
in your eyes. This is the only way to find some eye diseases that have no early
signs or symptoms. The eye doctor should test your eyesight, your glasses, and
your eye muscles. You should also have a test for glaucoma.
•Taking extra care if you have diabetes or
a family history of eye disease. Have an eye exam through dilated pupils every
year. See an eye doctor at once if you have any loss or dimness of eyesight, eye
pain, fluids coming from the eye, double vision, redness, or swelling of your
eye or eyelid.
Presbyopia is a slow
loss of ability to see close objects or small print. It is a normal process that
happens over a lifetime. You may not notice any change until after the age of
40. People with presbyopia often hold reading materials at arm's length. Some
get headaches or "tired eyes" while reading or doing other close work.
Presbyopia is often corrected with reading glasses.
Floaters are tiny spots or specks
that float across the field of vision. Most people notice them in well-lit rooms
or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters often are normal, but sometimes they warn
of eye problems such as retinal detachment, especially if they happen with light
flashes. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or
flashes, see your eye doctor.
eyes happen when tear glands don't make enough tears or make poor quality
tears. Dry tears can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, or even some
loss of vision. Your eye doctor may suggest using a humidifier in the home or
special eye drops ("artificial tears"). Surgery may be needed for more serious
cases of dry eyes.
having too many tears, can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or
temperature changes. Protecting your eyes (by wearing sunglasses, for instance)
sometimes solves the problem. Tearing may also mean that you have a more serious
problem, such as an eye infection or a blocked tear duct. Your eye doctor can
treat or correct both of these conditions.
Eye Diseases and Disorders
Common in Older People
Cataracts are cloudy areas
in part or all of the eye lens. The lens is usually clear and lets light
through. Cataracts keep light from easily passing through the lens, and this
causes loss of eyesight. Cataracts often form slowly and cause no pain, redness,
or tearing in the eye. Some stay small and don't change eyesight very much. If a
cataract becomes large or thick, it usually can be removed by surgery.
During surgery, the doctor takes off
the clouded lens and, in most cases, puts in a clear, plastic lens. Cataract
surgery is very safe. It is one of the most common surgeries done in the United
Glaucoma results from
too much fluid pressure inside the eye. It can lead to vision loss and
blindness. The cause of glaucoma is unknown. If treated early, glaucoma often
can be controlled and blindness prevented. To find glaucoma, the eye doctor will
look at your eyes through dilated pupils. Treatment may be prescription eye
drops, oral medications, or surgery. Most people with glaucoma have no early
symptoms or pain from increased pressure.
Retinal disorders are a leading
cause of blindness in the United States. The retina is a thin lining on the back
of the eye. It is made up of cells that get visual images and pass them on to
the brain. Retinal disorders include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic
retinopathy, and retinal detachment.
•Age-related macular degeneration.
The macula is part of the eye with millions of cells that are sensitive to
light. The macula makes vision possible from the center part of the eye. Over
time, age-related macular degeneration can ruin sharp vision needed to see
objects clearly and to do common tasks like driving and reading. In some cases,
it can be treated with lasers.
•Diabetic retinopathy. This
disorder can result from diabetes. It happens when small blood vessels stop
feeding the retina properly. In the early stages, the blood vessels may leak
fluid, which distorts sight. In the later stages, new vessels may grow and send
blood into the center of the eye, causing serious vision loss. In most cases,
laser treatment can prevent blindness. It is very important that people with
diabetes have an eye exam through dilated pupils every year.
•Retinal detachment. This happens
when the inner and outer layers of the retina become separated. With surgery or
laser treatment, doctors often can reattach the retina and bring back all or
part of your eyesight.
Conjunctivitis happens when the
tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the cornea becomes inflamed. It can
cause itching, burning, tearing, or a feeling of something in the eye.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by infection or allergies.
Corneal diseases and conditions
can cause redness, watery eyes, pain, reduced vision, or a halo effect. The
cornea is the clear, dome-shaped "window" at the front of the eye. It helps to
focus light that enters the eye. Disease, infection, injury, toxic agents, and
other things can damage the cornea. Treatments include changing the eyeglass
prescription, eye drops, or surgery.
Corneal transplantation is used
to restore eyesight when the cornea has been hurt by injury or disease. An eye
surgeon replaces the scarred cornea with a healthy cornea donated from another
person. Corneal transplantation is a common treatment that is safe and
successful. The doctor may prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses after surgery.
Eyelid problems can come from
different diseases or conditions. The eyelids protect the eye, distribute tears,
and limit the amount of light entering the eye. Pain, itching, tearing and
sensitivity to light are common eyelid symptoms. Other problems may include
drooping eyelids (ptosis), blinking spasms (blepharospasm), or
inflamed outer edges of the eyelids near the eyelashes (blepharitis).
Eyelid problems often can be treated with medication or surgery.
Temporal arteritis causes the
arteries in the temple area of the forehead to become swollen. It can begin with
a severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness in the temple area. It may
be followed in a few weeks by sudden vision loss. Other symptoms can include
shaking, weight loss, and low-grade fever. Scientists don't know the cause of
temporal arteritis, but they think it may be a disorder of the immune system.
Early treatment with medication can help prevent vision loss in one or both
Low Vision Aids
Many people with eyesight problems
find low vision aids helpful. These are special devices that are stronger than
regular eyeglasses. Low vision aids include telescopic glasses, lenses that
filter light, and magnifying glasses. Also, there are some useful electronic
devices that you can either hold in your hand or put directly on your reading
material. People with only partial sight often make surprising improvements
using these aids.