Like it or not, we are all eventually going to feel the effects aging. Whether it’s aching bones and joints, greying or thinning hair, or just the occasional facial line or wrinkle, time will sooner or later take its toll on us all. One of the most common and troublesome complaints that is frequently associated with growing older is diminishing visual acuity. In the majority of cases, this gradual loss of eyesight can be attributed to a condition known as presbyopia, which is believed to affect more than a billion men and women over the age for forty worldwide.
Presbyopia is primarily an inevitable, age-related condition that results from the gradual loss of elasticity that ultimately affects all of the body’s tissues. In a young and healthy eye, the lens that focuses light onto the retina is highly flexible. Tiny muscles in the eye can subtly bend and flex this lens so that it is able to focus on objects at varying distances. However, as the eye ages, the lens becomes less elastic and flexible while the muscles surrounding it become weaker and less responsive. Eventually, the lenses in the eyes can no longer bend far enough to bring nearby objects into focus, and patients experience increasingly blurred vision when doing close work, reading small text, or trying to focus on fine details. As the condition worsens, attempts to force the vision into focus can even cause headaches or eyestrain. Presbyopia is usually treated with prescription reading glasses, bifocals or progressive lenses, or multifocal contact lenses.
Unfortunately, presbyopia is not the only vision affecting condition that becomes increasingly common as we get older. In some cases, older patients report seeing a slight distortion in the center of their vision that can gradually grow worse until it eventually becomes an empty area or blind spot. This is the result of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, which occurs when small, yellow deposits, called drusen, form on the macula at the back of the eye, preventing light from reaching the center of the retina and obscuring vision. Age-related macular degeneration most commonly occurs in men and women over the age of sixty, but may also occur much earlier. Although it does not usually cause total blindness, it can make it nearly impossible to perform common, everyday tasks like reading or driving. Its progression can be slowed in some patients with a combination of regular exercise and a healthy diet high in green, leafy vegetables and fish. However, since there is currently no cure for the condition, the patient will eventually need to consider other treatment options.
In addition, three other leading causes of vision loss, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts, have also been shown to become more common in people as they grow older. This is one of the reasons why the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that all men and women undergo a complete comprehensive eye exam at least once between the ages of 20 and 29, at least twice between the ages of 30 and 39, and annually thereafter and that all patients get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur. If you have questions about the health of your eyes, or would like to schedule an eye exam, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to make an appointment with Dr. William Segal or Dr. Marc Lay. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear.