As the human body ages, it undergoes constant change. Not surprisingly, the eyes, eyelids, and supporting ocular structures all change as the clock ticks. Unfortunately, change is not always for the better.
What are common problems in the aging eye
and how are they prevented?
Presbyopia is an age-related dysfunction of the lens and focusing structures in the eye. Increasing difficulty with reading and up close vision is the end result. Many people (usually around age 45) notice that it helps to hold reading material further away. Bifocals or other eyewear may help to improve near vision. Surgical procedures are now available to improve near vision deficits.
The eye’s natural lens works best when it is flexible and clear. With time, however, its clarity slowly diminishes. When the natural lens actually becomes cloudy, it is then called a “cataract,” which is associated with a decrease in vision. Cataract surgery is the only proven remedy for this condition.
Drooping of the eyelids and surrounding structures is common in the aging population. Laxity of the supporting tissues in the brow and eyelid is to blame, creating extra eyelid skin, partial eyelid closure, and “bags” around the eyes. When prominent, decreased peripheral vision, ocular fatigue, and general eye irritation may all be noted. Surgery and non-invasive collagen tightening have helped many with this problem.
The amount and quality of the eye’s lubrication may decrease as we age, leading to burning, itching, or a gritty sensation. Dry eye syndrome commonly causes blurring of vision. Rarely, permanent vision loss can result from severe disease. New therapies to stimulate tear production and maintain tear volume now exist to complement artificial tear drops.
As the back of the eye ages, central vision loss can occur. Symptoms from this retinal dysfunction include blurred vision, the perception of straight objects appearing wavy, and sometimes, a sudden drop in vision. High dose antioxidant vitamins, laser treatment, or injectable medications may help prevent further visual degradation.
Moving black spots, “webs,” and “strings” in the vision are common descriptions of floaters. They typically worsen (later in adulthood) when the vitreous gel separates from the back of the eye. The resulting debris from this separation creates unwanted floaters in the field of vision. It is important to be evaluated for potential retina problems when new floaters arise.