Vision Problems in Aging Adults
There are several eye problems that are more common among people as they age, although they can affect anyone at any age. They include:
Presbyopia: This is the loss of the ability to clearly see close objects or small print. It is a normal process that happens slowly over a lifetime, but you may not notice any change until after age 40. Presbyopia is often corrected with reading glasses.
Floaters: These are tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision. Most people notice them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters often are normal, but can sometimes indicate a more serious eye problem, such as retinal detachment, especially if they are accompanied by light flashes. If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes you see, visit your eye doctor as soon as possible.
Dry eyes: This happens when tear glands cannot make enough tears or produce poor quality tears. Dry eyes can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, or (rarely) some loss of vision. Ironically, patients with dry eyes often complain of tearing because dry eyes are easily irritated, and the eye tries to wash out the irritation using excess tears. Your eye doctor may suggest using a humidifier in your home, nutritional supplements, such as flaxseed oil, medications to reduce inflammation as a cause, or special eye drops that simulate real tears. In more serious cases of dry eyes, plugs may be used to block drainage ducts for tears.
Tearing: Having too many tears can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes. Protecting your eyes by shielding them or wearing sunglasses can sometimes solve the problem. Tearing may also mean that you have a more serious problem, such as an eye infection, dry eyes, or a blocked tear duct. Your eye doctor can treat or correct all of these conditions.
Cataracts: Cataracts are cloudy areas that cover part of or the entire lens. Since a healthy eye lens is clear like a camera lens, light has no problem passing through the lens to the back of the eye to the retina where images are processed. When a cataract is present, the light cannot get through the lens as easily and, as a result, vision can be impaired. Cataracts often form slowly, causing no pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. Some stay small and do not alter eyesight. If they become large or thick, cataracts can usually be removed by surgery.
Glaucoma: This condition develops when the optic nerve is damaged. It is also often accompanied by an increase in the pressure in the eye. If not treated early, this can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. Heredity, age and race are significant risk factors for glaucoma. Glaucoma is less commonly caused by other factors such as injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels or inflammatory disorders of the eye. Because most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain, it is very important to get your eyes checked by an eye doctor regularly. Treatment may include prescription eye drops, oral medications, laser therapy or surgery.
Retinal disorders: The retina is a thin lining on the back of the eye made up of cells that collect visual images and pass them on to the brain. Retinal disorders interrupt this transfer of images. They include age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment. Early diagnosis and treatment of these conditions is important to maintain vision.
Conjunctivitis: This is a condition in which the tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the cornea becomes inflamed. It is sometimes called "pink eye" or "red eye." It can cause redness, itching, burning, tearing, or a feeling of something in the eye. Conjunctivitis occurs in people of all ages and can be caused by infection, exposure to chemicals and irritants, or allergies.
Corneal diseases: The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped "window" at the front of the eye. It helps to focus light that enters the eye. Disease, infection, injury, and exposure to toxic agents can damage the cornea causing eye redness, watery eyes, pain, reduced vision, or a halo effect. Treatments include making adjustments to the eyeglass prescription, using medicated eye drops, or having surgery.
Eyelid problems: The eyelids protect the eye, distribute tears, and limit the amount of light entering the eye. Pain, itching, tearing, and sensitivity to light are common symptoms of eyelid problems. Other problems may include drooping eyelids, blinking spasms, or inflamed outer edges of the eyelids near the eyelashes. Eyelid problems often can be treated with medication or surgery.
Temporal arteritis: This condition causes arteries to become inflamed and possibly obstructed. It can begin with a severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness in the temple area. It may be followed by sudden and permanent vision loss. Other symptoms can include shaking, weight loss, shoulder or hip weakness and low-grade fever. It may be caused by an impaired immune system. Early treatment with medication can help prevent vision loss in one or both eyes. Patients with symptoms should contact their doctor.
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