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Understanding the Signs of Aging Eyes and How to Carefully Manage Them

aging eyes

Having to focus a little more on reading labels or checking your phone for emails? Or having difficulty in understanding, is that blue or green? Well, that is undoubtedly common with advancing age. As we get older, our bodies change in different ways, and so do our eyes. Vision loss or impairment is one of the most prevalent changes that occur with aging.

At least 2.2 billion individuals on Earth have some visual impairment. At least 1 billion of these instances include avoidable or untreated difficulties with vision.

In this article, we’ll look at the most common signs of aging eyes and discuss how to deal with and prevent them.

Effects of Age on the Eyes

It’s natural for your eyesight to alter somewhat as you get older. The National Eye Institute states that although specific alterations are to be expected, others may be reasons for worry

The eyes undergo several changes as we get older, including:

  • Reduced Pupil Size:  Muscles regulate pupil size and light sensitivity, and their strength decreases with aging. As a result, the pupil contracts and loses its sensitivity to light, and people in their 60s require three times as much ambient light as those in their 20s to read comfortably. Also, when leaving a dimly illuminated building, such as a movie theater, seniors are more susceptible to being blinded by bright sunlight and glare. 
  • Reduced Tear Production: Aging may cause the tear glands to produce fewer tears, contributing to dry eyes.
  • Reduced Lens elasticity: As we age, our eyes’ lenses become less elastic, making it more challenging to focus on nearby objects.
  • Changes in Color Hues: A change in color perception might make it difficult for some people to tell the difference between various shades of the same color.
  • Increased risk of eye diseases: Common eye illnesses, including cataracts, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), seem more prevalent in aging eyes.

Factors Contributing to Aging Eyes

The normal process of getting older is a big reason why eyes get age. But other factors have been researched,

  • Lifestyle Choices: Poor dietary choices, insufficient physical activity, and prolonged computer use may all harm eyesight.  (1) (2) (3
  • Environmental factors: The eyes’ aging process may be increased by environmental pollution, as proven by many pieces of research
  • Genetics: No doubt, family history usually plays a huge role in aging eyes. For instance, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are frequently inherited conditions. And people with a family history of age-related macular degeneration are four times more likely to develop the disease.
  • Pre-existing Medical Conditions: The risk of vision loss is highest in those with preexisting conditions like diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure) or who take drugs with potentially adverse effects on the eyes. That is why, as you age, getting your eyes checked regularly becomes even more important.

Symptoms of Aging Eyes

The best way to protect our valuable ability to see and to keep our eyes in good condition as we age is to be aware of the signs of aging and the changes that come with it. Let us have a look at the most common symptoms of aging eyes. 

Blurred Vision: Vision may become foggy or out of focus due to aging eyes, making objects appear indistinct or out of focus. This might make it harder to see fine details. It often manifests in one’s early 40s and progresses into one’s mid-60s. 

Decreased Color Vision: The number of cones and rods responsible for color vision in the retina decreases with age. This may lead to a general reduction of the color palette and difficulty distinguishing between colors.

Eye Pain and Discomfort: Aging eyes are sometimes linked with pain or discomfort accompanied by Redness, itching, or a burning feeling. 

Difficulty Seeing in Low Light: Vision may need help adjusting to dim lighting, making it more challenging to see a way around, and some people take longer than others to adapt to new lighting conditions. This is because the rod cells, essential for seeing in dim lighting, are thought to decline in strength with age. One reason driving at night or in bad weather is more challenging in such cases. 

Fatigued Eyes: It’s possible that reading, using screens, and other visually taxing activities increase eye exhaustion. Feelings of heaviness or tiredness in the eyes are common symptoms of eye fatigue.

Floaters/ Flashes: Floaters are small dots or shapes that float across your field of view and resemble cobwebs. Flashes appear as brief flashes of light in your periphery.  These occurrences, brought on by change to the vitreous gel within the eye, become more prevalent with age.

Reduced Peripheral Vision: Evidence suggests that every decade of life results in a loss of peripheral vision of 1-3 degrees. By the time some individuals reach their 70th birthday, they have lost 20-30 degrees of peripheral vision.

Loss of peripheral vision might be a natural aspect of becoming older, but it can also be a sign of something more severe, like glaucoma. As a result, if you have any changes in your eyesight or loss of vision, you should get an eye test to rule out any potentially serious problems.

Increased Sensitivity to Glare or Bright Lights: Age-related changes in eye sensitivity to light and glare are common. Some people may feel uneasy behind the wheel at night or under intense sunlight. Even there can be changes in adjusting to new lighting conditions, such as going from a bright to a dark room. 

Changes in Depth and Length Perception: Depth perception is usually impaired with age, making it more challenging to assess distances precisely.

Poor Sleep Schedule: Evidence shows that our ability to absorb blue light decreases with aging. This explains why our bodies generate less melatonin as we age, which may mess with our circadian rhythms. It has been speculated that glaucoma and diabetic eye disease patients are more likely to have sleep disturbances.

Eyelid problems: Redness, swelling, itching, tearing, and crusting over eyelashes at night are all symptoms of common eyelid problems. To completely overlook such conditions, Click here to read our dedicated article.

These symptoms may appear alone or in combination, and their intensity can range widely. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, you should consult an eye doctor for an accurate diagnosis and recommendations.

Most Common Age-Related Eye Conditions

Understanding the symptoms and causes of age-related eye diseases is essential for preserving good vision. Some of the most prevalent age-related eye problems are as follows:

1. Presbyopia: Farsightedness

Presbyopia is an age-related type of farsightedness that affects the vast majority of people over 40, and a total of 1.8 billion people are suffering from it worldwide.  Although presbyopia is a typical feature of aging, it may make simple tasks like reading and using a computer more difficult. In presbyopia, the eye lens becomes hard due to aging-related changes, thus causing symptoms to show. 

The common signs of presbyopia have to hold reading material farther away to concentrate on it, difficulty seeing fine print, needing more light to read, eyestrain, or tired eyes.

Presbyopia is caused by natural aging and cannot be prevented or reversed, although it is treatable with corrective lenses or surgery.

2. Dry Eyes

The cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eyeball, is protected by the tears our eyes produce. However, chronic inflammation from exposure to the sun and wind and high blood pressure, stress, and other causes may reduce tear production over time. In their 50s, many people report experiencing scorching, stinging, or even teary eyes.

It could cause discomfort, burn, or make your eyes feel sandy or like something is in them. Age is a significant factor in the development of dry eye, particularly in women, mainly after menopause

Although artificial tears and saline lubricating drops are not a solution for dry eyes, they may help alleviate symptoms and maintain good vision.

Loss of central vision is one of the effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This eye illness primarily affects the macula (the retina’s central portion responsible for processing light entering the eye). 

3. Glaucoma 

Glaucoma is a series of eye conditions that cause a gradual loss of peripheral (side) vision due to optic nerve injury. The term “sneak thief of sight” describes glaucoma since most individuals don’t realize there is a problem until some vision has been lost. It usually affects both eyes. However, it may begin in one. According to the CDC, Glaucoma affects around 3 million U.S. citizens.

Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness if not addressed. As already told, until severe loss of side vision, glaucoma may not cause any discomfort or visible symptoms.

Photos courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

The chance of getting glaucoma increases with age and race (particularly among blacks). Glaucoma is irreversible and cannot be treated.  However, vision loss can be delayed or stopped if detected early. It is essential to conduct a comprehensive eye exam to detect glaucoma early.

4. Diabetic Retinopathy

People with diabetes suffer from an eye-related condition known as Diabetic retinopathy, which is more likely to occur in those who have had the disease for longer. 

The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that one in every 12 people with diabetes over 40 has severe, vision-threatening retinopathy. This number rises to 60% for people with undiagnosed diabetes.

It results from gradual damage to the retina’s tiny blood vessels. When blood and other fluids leak out of these broken blood vessels, they cause the retinal tissue to enlarge and obscure vision. Furthermore, fluctuating glucose readings may affect the illness’s progression and severity. 

aging eyes

Photos courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

In its first stages, there may be no apparent symptoms of diabetic retinopathy, but as the disease progresses, individuals may have visual problems such as blurred or wavy vision, blind spots, floaters (floating spots or streaks in your vision), difficulty seeing in the dark, and a diminished perception of colors. It may lead to permanent vision loss in its most severe forms.

The American Diabetes Association encourages people with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and women with either type who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy to undergo diabetic retinopathy screening.

The simplest way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is to control your diabetes carefully, but if you notice any changes in your vision, consult your eye doctor immediately.

5. Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Loss of central vision is one of the effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

This eye illness primarily affects the macula (the retina’s central portion responsible for processing light entering the eye). The macula enables a person to see fine details and is necessary for activities such as reading and driving. Macular degeneration causes a loss of central vision but does not affect peripheral or side vision. 

The most common reason for blindness in the United States. There are now 11 million Americans with this condition, projected to rise to approximately 22 million by 2050

Photos courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

About 1.5 million people have advanced AMD, which can cause impaired or distorted central vision in one or both eyes, blind or hazy patches, and a diminished ability to see colors. Still, the majority have early-stage AMD, which usually produces no symptoms.

Earlier detection and treatment of dry AMD can prevent or significantly reduce vision loss in the later stages of the disease. Taking a multivitamin and a mineral supplement may slow the progression of AMD.

While there is currently no treatment for this condition, one may reduce the risk factors by eating well, being physically active, avoiding smoking, and using sunglasses when one goes outside.

6. Cataracts 

Cataracts happen when proteins from the eye’s lens start to break down, and the deposits build up on the lens’s surface around the age of 40s. When this happens, the usually clear eye lens becomes opaque, making it hard to see. Depending on their size, they may irritate the eye. One may be more severely affected.

Gradually, as the cataract progresses, the lens will turn yellow and sometimes even brown. This can cause difficulty identifying between different shades of color and, if left neglected, can eventually result in total vision loss.

The National Eye Institute reports that 2.5% of Americans aged 40–49 have cataracts, which rises progressively to over 50% among those aged 75–79. It has also been estimated that Cataracts affect 50% of people in the U.S. who are 75 or older, increasing the risk rate. 

Photos courtesy of the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health

Cataracts may make it difficult to focus, reduce contrast, reduce visibility in low-light situations (like nighttime driving), soften colors, and make it challenging to tolerate glare.

Wearing sunglasses, avoiding tobacco use, and eating healthily especially dark leafy greens, are all great ways to protect your eyes from cataracts. Cataracts can only be cured surgically, and high-quality surgical removal alternatives are available. Replacing the clouded natural lens with an artificial lens is an effective treatment for cataracts.

7. Floaters & Flashes

Floaters as seen in the eyes

Floaters are tiny spots or specks that look floating across our field of sight. They are caused by changes in the vitreous gel inside the eye and are easier to see when the background is bright. Flashes, on the other hand, appear in the visual field as short streaks of light.

Floaters and flashes are usually unharmful, but if they start happening suddenly or worsen, it could be a sign of a more serious eye problem that must be resolved immediately.

Migraine headaches are a common trigger for flashes. In most situations, floaters and flashes will go away on their own. However, surgery is an option for more severe cases.

8. Retinal Detachment

When the retina is torn or comes loose from its supporting tissues, it is called a retinal detachment. Most cases of retinal detachment develop on their own, brought on by shifts in the vitreous fluid, a gel-like substance that fills the back of the eye. Inflammatory eye conditions, severe diabetes, and trauma to the eye or head are other potential causes. People over the age of 40 seem to be more affected. 

Retinal detachment is painless, but the longer it continues untreated. If only a tiny portion of your retina has detached, you may not experience any symptoms. Nonetheless, if a more significant portion of your retina is detached, you may not be able to see as clearly as usual and may experience other abrupt symptoms, such as:

  • Numerous new floaters (small dark patches or wavy lines that float across one’s field of vision).
  • Bright flashes in one or both eyes
  • A shadow or “curtain” of darkness on the sides or in the center of your visual field.

Retinal detachment symptoms frequently occur unexpectedly. The danger of irreversible vision loss or blindness increases if the retinal detachment is not treated immediately. So it’s always advised to consult a doctor in a medical emergency.

How To Prevent Aging Eyes

Your chances of maintaining a healthy vision improve if these issues are caught and addressed as soon as possible.  A lot of conditions of the eye have no early warning signs. They may progress without discomfort, and you may only notice the changes to your eyesight once it’s too late. You may be unaware of how problems with other areas of your body might spread to your eyes.

The National Institute on Aging provides the following eye care advice:

According to the American Optometric Association, everyone over 60 should have an eye checkup once a year. 

  • Outdoors, wear spectacles that inhibit ultraviolet (UV) radiation and headwear with a wide brim.
  • Stop smoking, as it increases the risk of developing eye disorders.
  • Consume nourishing nutrients that promote eye health.
  • Maintain an active lifestyle and a healthy weight.
  • Reduce hypertension, which can contribute to eye issues.
    If you have diabetes, which can cause blindness, it is essential to keep it under control.
  • Reduce eye strain when concentrating on a computer or a single object by glancing aside for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Regular eye examinations are also essential for detecting problems before they become more severe.

Natural aging processes cause eye changes that affect vision and general eye health. The eyes go through several changes as we age, some of which are detrimental to eyesight and eye health as a whole. Understanding the signs of aging eyes is essential for early diagnosis and treatment. 

Maintaining sound eye health and 20/20 vision for a lifetime is possible with a few simple lifestyle changes and routine checkups. Even though not all eye diseases can be avoided, there are things you can do to lower your chances. To learn more about the best eye solutions. Please refer to the article here. 

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