The Aging Eye
Posted 10/13/2016 by UHBlog
The first time you need reading glasses is as much a life milestone as getting your driving license at 16, being able to vote at 18 and legally enjoying a glass of wine at 21 – although you probably aren’t quite as excited about it. Farsightedness eventually happens to most people, typically starting after the age of 40.
Unfortunately, as you age, you’re also at increased risk for some other eye problems as well, says ophthalmologist Julie Belkin, MD.
“Some eye conditions are noticeable, but others are usually diagnosed only during an examination,” she says.
According to Dr. Belkin, that most common eye diseases and conditions that people experience as they age are:
- Dry eye. Dry eyes can be caused by reduced tear production, and usually result in a gritty feeling in the eye. The discomfort can be even worse if you wear contacts. Dry eye can be a part of the aging process, but also can be caused by certain medications or eye diseases. In most cases, over-the-counter artificial tears can relieve symptoms. Severe cases may require prescription medication, Dr. Belkin says.
- Cataracts. As we age, the clear lenses on our eyes become cloudy, resulting in blurred vision. When it gets cloudy enough, you may have difficulty reading or participating in certain activities. Cataracts can be surgically corrected by removing the eye’s natural lens and replacing it with an artificial one.
“With today's modern lens implants, we also may be able correct your vision so you can stop wearing glasses and contacts,” Dr. Belkin says.
- Presbyopia, or the inability to focus on print or other items up close. “It’s very annoying but it happens to almost everybody at some point,” she says. “It is easily corrected with reading glasses. Most people are able to use the inexpensive reading glasses from a drug or discount store. But you should still get an examination when you start to get presbyopia because it may signal the age at which you may be at risk for some other serious eye conditions.”
- Glaucoma. This is a disease in which pressure increases inside your eyeball, causing damage to your optic nerve. The condition is progressive and can result in permanent blindness. According to Dr. Belkin, glaucoma is not reversible, but its progression can be stopped by treatments that range from eye drops to surgery.
- Macular degeneration. As the leading cause of vision loss, macular degeneration is a usually incurable disease caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, called the macula. When macular tissue degenerates, mild to severe loss of vision can result. A less common form of macular degeneration may be treatable.
- Floaters. These are faint, odd-shaped objects that seem to float vertically and horizontally before your eyes. They are actually deposits of liquid inside your eye.
“Everybody gets them at some point but the brain gets used to them so that you don’t even notice them most of the time,” Dr. Belkin says. “In the worst-case scenario, they could signal a tear in the retina that needs to be treated quickly to prevent further damage.”
- Drooping eyelids. This eye-related condition happens with age.
“The muscle that works the lid can become stretched out over time so that the lid doesn't open completely,” she says. “It can be corrected with surgery. If the condition interferes with your eyesight, it's considered a medical treatment and is likely to be covered by insurance. Otherwise, it's considered a cosmetic procedure.”
Although many age-related eye conditions are normal, they may be delayed or reduced in severity by eating a healthy diet. Carrots – the traditional go-to food for maintaining good eyesight – do contain Vitamin A, which is good for the eyes. However, Dr. Belkin says, including plenty of green leafy vegetable in your diet is probably more beneficial.
“We recommend extra amounts of antioxidant vitamins, especially for people who have a high risk of macular degeneration,” she says. “Dry eyes may be helped by taking omega-3 supplements, like flax seeds.”
To avoid eye damage from sun exposure, Dr. Belkin recommends wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection.
Julie Belkin, MD is an ophthalmologist at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment with Dr. Belkin or any doctor online.