It’s a toss-up which part of getting older is the least fun. Hearing loss is definitely up there. Those aches and pains when you get up aren’t any fun either.
But changes in vision have to be pretty high on the “do not like” list, since there’s so much to see in the world and so many things that can affect what and how we see our world.
According to the National Institute on Aging, there are several common age-related eye conditions which, at best, can limit your vision, and at worse, cause enough deterioration over time to cause permanent blindness.
More than 37 million American adults have been diagnosed with some form of vision impairment which can include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, dry eyes, and more.
The good news is today that there’s much more awareness of these types of conditions than in the past and a variety of treatment options for many of them. Often, the sooner something is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better the outcome can be. Sometimes surgery may be needed, but other times, medication can help on a short- or long-term basis.
That’s why eye care professionals recommend regular visits to an optometrist throughout someone’s lives, at least annually by the time they enter their 40s, and more often if a problem is detected and being treated.
It’s true that our eyes do change all of our lives, and some of us may have even noticed that eyesight problems they had earlier in life corrected themselves when they get older, such as nearsightedness or farsightedness. Others may notice the opposite, that it’s even harder to see close up without the help of reading glasses or a magnifying glass.
Age also impacts other parts of our eyes, including how sensitive we are to bright light and how quickly our eyes can change from a dark to a light situation, such as entering a room and turning on the lights, or squinting when driving at night and there are bright headlights from oncoming traffic.
If you’re not familiar with different eye- or vision-related conditions you can experience later in life – or maybe soon — it can feel overwhelming and maybe even a little frightening.
That’s why so many in the eye care community want to help educate the public as much as possible about these conditions and why and how to get them treated.
For instance, the American Academy of Ophthalmology focuses on spreading the word about a different common medical condition each month. It has even released a calendar of the year where its members across the country will work to spread the word about different conditions each month.
For instance, January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, February is Age-Related Macular Degeneration Awareness Month, March is Workplace Eye Wellness Month, and so on.
Some of the months look closer at certain medical conditions, others look at environmental factors such as the risks to the eyes from UV light in the summer, when we’re likely to be outside enjoying the sunshine. We may be familiar with UV rays in relation to skin health, but long-term exposure can also harm the eyes by causing sunburns, temporary blindness and possible increased cataract growth.
Each month has a short summary of the condition or environmental factor that is focused on, as well as suggestions to lower risk, such as wearing hats or sunglasses when out in the sun.
In addition to specific treatment options for each condition, there are also some things everyone can do to help their eyesight, including regular exercise, watching their weight and blood pressure, and quitting smoking if you haven’t done so already.
Conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and hypertension all have been linked to vision problems.
For those who want to know more about some of the vision-related conditions that they may be likely to experience as they age, they include:
- Glaucoma. This is caused by an excess of fluid pressure in the eye, which can cause pain and vision loss. It can be treated with surgery or prescription eye drops. Part of what’s frightening is that people may not notice any pain or symptoms unless they check in regularly with their eye care professional.
- Diabetic retinopathy. This condition is more likely to affect you if you already have diabetes. It’s also something that is difficult to detect unless someone is looking for it, and an eye care professional can monitor it with dilation. Keeping your diet under control can also slow how fast it progresses. Laser surgery can also help.
- Cataracts. If you notice things looking foggier or blurred, it’s caused by problems with the lens. People may have small ones but not realize it, but they can grow and eventually obscure your vision unless treated. Surgery can be one option.
- Dry eyes. If your tear ducts stop working effectively, it can cause discomfort and pain. Treatment can include prescription eye drops or even installing a humidifier in one’s home to add more moisture to the air. Surgery can also be an option to repair damaged or plugged ducts.
- Age-related macular degeneration. This makes it difficult to perform routine tasks like reading or driving. Certain dietary supplements can help.
- General low vision. This means it’s extra challenging to perceive much around you, but standard assistive options aren’t able to help, such as glasses or contacts. An eye care professional likely will be able to find other solutions to help you adapt.