The Aging Eye
by Dr. Joseph P Walker
Originally Published in the News-Press on November 11, 2014
Aging causes changes in our cells, tissues and organs. On the outside, our skin becomes less elastic and more wrinkled and hair becomes gray. On the inside, our blood vessels become hardened, our muscles weaken and organs such as the heart, kidneys, and lungs do not work quite as well as they used to.
Our eyes are also susceptible to aging. There are many common age-related changes that can occur in our eyes:
- Presbyopia: A normal aging condition in which the natural lens of the eye becomes less elastic. This usually starts around age 40 and increases the need for reading glasses.
- Dry eyes: This occurs when not enough tears are produced or when the tears (even with excessive tearing) lack enough lubricant. The eyes can be irritated, sensitive or have excess tears.
- Cataracts: This is the clouding of the natural lens of the eye, often producing vision loss. Cataract removal with lens implantation normally produces excellent vision.
- Glaucoma: A disease that damages the eye’s optic (main) nerve and can cause permanent blindness if undetected and untreated.
- Floaters: Vitreous gel fills the back of the eye. As the vitreous ages, it liquefies, shrinks and can become stringy or strand-like. These strands cast shadows on the retina, causing floaters to be seen in the vision. The floaters usually move with eye movement.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): A common degenerative condition of the retina that can produce “legal blindness,” usually in retirement-age population. AMD alters the retina tissue in the central vision area of the eye. This is the only part of the retina that has central sharp reading vision. This is the leading cause of legal blindness in the retirement-age population in the United States.
There are some signs and symptoms that should prompt you to call an eye doctor sooner rather than later for an eye examination.
You should contact your eye doctor if you have any sudden onset of visual symptoms. Sudden blurred vision in one or both eyes can sometimes indicate an underlying and potentially serious health problem such as stroke or diabetes. Sudden onset or increase of flashes, floaters, loss of side vision or total loss of vision can indicate acute retinal disease and may require immediate attention.
Gradual onset of blurred vision usually indicates a less severe problem that does not require immediate attention. Gradual blurring is typically not an emergency. If you notice that your vision becomes blurry gradually, or over a period of time, then it is probably time to schedule an eye examination.
As you age, your risk of eye disease and vision loss increases.
By having dilated eye exams as recommended by your eye doctor, a vision problem could be detected and possibly be prevented, delayed or even reversed depending on the diagnosis.
Please visit eye.md for more information about eye disease.
Dr. Joseph P Walker is a board-certified ophthalmologist specializing in diseases of the retina and vitreous and is the founder of Retina Consultants of Southwest Florida with offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs, Naples and Port Charlotte. The Fort Myers office is located at 6901 International Center Blvd. Call (239) 939-4323 or visit eye.md