Your eyes age along with the rest of your body.
First symptoms of ageing eyes
One of the first symptoms of our eyesight starting to fail is the loss of our ability to focus on near objects. You have to increase the distance between your eyes and your reading material, which commonly occurs during your 40s. This condition, which occurs when the lenses of your eyes become less flexible, is known as presbyopia. Unfortunately, this is not the only change in the health of your eyes as you age.
Ageing eyes and declining eyesight can compromise your lifestyle
If you suffer vision loss, it can severely compromise your lifestyle and independence. Unfortunately, vision loss forces many older Australians to withdraw from their passions and hobbies, which can lead to isolation and depression. Therefore looking after your eyes is really important. Fortunately, many of these age-related eye diseases can be slowed down, or even prevented, through appropriate medical care.
That is why regular exams with an eye doctor are so important. With the right guidance you can take steps to lower your risk of developing age-related vision problems. Or, if you have changes, you can slow their rate of progression.
Most common problems with ageing eyes
Here are some of the very common eye issues that develop with age:
- Macular degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration is characterized by your central vision become distorted and blurred.
- Glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside the eye causes damage to the optic nerve (the nerve of sight). This results in progressive and irreversible visual field loss. Glaucoma usually affects the peripheral vision first and is therefore asymptomatic in its early stages. Substantial amounts of vision can be lost before the individual realises that there is a problem.
- Cataract. Cataract is a common cause of vision impairment among the elderly. Fortunately vision can be effectively restored with surgery.
- Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can be most easily understood if you think of the retinal blood vessels like pipes – elevated blood sugar “rusts” these pipes. The resultant leakage of fluid, blood, and lipid into the retina causes blurring of vision. Diabetic patients should undergo an eye examination at diagnosis and then at least annually thereafter.
- Dry eyes. Dry eye becomes more common with age for two reasons: the oil glands that line your eyelids become obstructed, and your production of watery tears may also decrease. Paradoxically, dry eye can cause excessive ‘reflex’ tearing when you’re in a cold windy environment.
Other, perhaps less serious ways in which your eyes age include:
- Yellowing or browning, if your eyes have been overexposed during your life to ultraviolet light (sunlight), wind and dust.
- Patchy pigmentation.
- Thinning of the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane covering of the eye);
- Increased transparency of the sclera (the white outer layer of the eyeball), which can take on a bluish-grey tint.
- A grey-white ring at the edge of the cornea known as ‘arcus senilis’, which is a deposit of cholesterol and calcium salts.
- The accumulation of ‘floaters’ in your vision. These are harmless for the most part, but if you ever notice a sudden increase in floaters then you should get your eyes checked immediately.
- Your pupils become smaller and no longer dilate well in dim lighting.
- Muscles weaken with age, and the muscles that move the eyeball are no exception. This can cause older individuals to see double when they look in the far distance, or when they try to focus up close. Although this can be a normal ageing change, if you ever notice double vision have your eyes checked immediately.
- Laxity of the eyelid tissues. Your lower eyelid can start to sag outwards (known as ectropion), or it can turn inwards and cause the eyelashes to rub agains the eyeball (known as entropion). Your upper eyelid can also droop (a condition known as ptosis).
- Orbital fat can start to bulge forward into the upper eyelid, which appears as a soft lump in the inner corner of the upper lid.