While it’s perfectly normal for eyesight to grow weaker as we age, pronounced changes in vision—whether sudden or gradual—are cause for concern.
Here, you’ll learn about the common vision problems that affect many Americans over 65.
What is it? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, a bundle of about 1 million delicate fibers that carries images to the brain. It’s caused by the buildup of fluid in the inner eye that puts pressure on the optic nerve.
There are two different kinds of glaucoma: Chronic, or open-angle, glaucoma, the most common form, comes on gradually and painlessly. Acute, or closed-angle, glaucoma, strikes suddenly and severely.
What are the symptoms? Chronic glaucoma causes gradual narrowing of vision, while acute glaucoma triggers eye pain, rainbow halos around lights, nausea and vomiting.
What are the risk factors? Age, nearsightedness, African ancestry, a family history of glaucoma, past eye injuries and a history of severe anemia or shock all are linked to the vision disorder.
How is it treated? Eyedrops and oral medication reduce pressure on the optic nerve by causing the eye to produce less fluid or helping fluid drain more easily.
Can surgery help? Yes. In fact, it’s highly recommended for acute glaucoma. Using a laser, the surgeon either enlarges the drain or creates a hole in the iris to improve the flow of fluid. Conventional surgery is necessary for some patients.
What are they? Cataracts are the gradual clouding of the eyes’ lenses. The clouding tends to progress so slowly that some patients don’t realize the extent of their severe vision loss.
What are the symptoms? They include trouble seeing in bright light, double vision in one eye, fading color and poor night vision.
What are the risk factors? Diabetes, an eye injury, steroid use, long-term exposure to sunlight and previous eye surgery are culprits.
How are cataracts treated? Sometimes, a new eyeglass prescription may do the trick. Severe cases may require surgery in which the cloudy lens is replaced with a clear plastic lens.
Can cataracts be prevented? Protecting your eyes with eyeglass lenses that screen out ultraviolet (UV) rays is the main line of defense.
What is it? The leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 65, macular degeneration is triggered by damage to the macula, the small area of the retina responsible for central vision. In most cases, the aging and thinning of macular tissues cause so-called “dry” macular degeneration. “Wet” degeneration occurs when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid, causing central vision to blur.
What are the symptoms? A dark area in the center of vision and blurry words are among the first signs.
How is macular degeneration treated? There’s no effective treatment for the dry type other than using magnifying devices and other materials that help compensate for vision loss. Wet macular degeneration can be treated with laser surgery, photodynamic therapy or injected medications. Your doctor can do a test called fluorescein angiography to determine if you’re at risk.
Can macular degeneration be prevented? Protecting the eyes from UV sun rays may have a hand in prevention. And scientists have found that people with intermediate stage macular degeneration have a significantly lower risk of disease progression when they take a specific high-dose combination of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, copper and zinc.