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May 27, 2021

How Aging Affects The Eyes

Getting older isn’t always fun, but as my dad always says, it’s better than the alternative! Unfortunately, there are some downsides to becoming more...mature. Wrinkles, fine lines, limited mobility, acid reflux, arthritis, and, last but not least, impaired vision. Even for those who have been blessed with eagle eyes their whole life, the years have a way of wreaking havoc on  eye health. Just like any other part of your body, your eyes will change drastically over the years. 

What To Expect At Each Life Stage

Childhood (0-18):The eyes are not fully developed at birth, so as the child grows, so does the eye. Schools conduct eye screenings for a reason; about three quarters of nearsighted children (myopia) are diagnosed between 3 and 12. Why? As the eye grows, it may change shape and become less round, causing light to enter the eye at a different angle. When light is focused somewhere other than the retina due to a change in shape, a child might develop a “refractive error,” causing blurred or distorted vision. Refractive errors can include short-sightedness, long-sightedness, and astigmatism. Symptoms in childhood can include difficulty reading, excessive squinting and rubbing, headaches during school, etc. Thankfully, most refractive errors can easily be treated with prescription lenses. Check out our  parental guide to learn more about your child’s eye health.

Young Adulthood (20s-30s):In terms of vision, there aren’t a lot of changes that happen within this time period. Most young adults tend to have healthy eyes and good eyesight once their vision has stabilized. If they do have a significant refractive error, chances are they are already being treated for it via glasses or contacts. This is a good time to look into laser eye surgery, as the risks are lower during this stage of your life. 

Middle Age (40s-50s):Up until now you’ve probably been enjoying some relatively unproblematic eyeballs, but then middle age hits you harder than a basketball to the face. Even if you are years away from your dotage, the eye begins to weaken around 40. The lens of the eye begins to stiffen and lose its flexibility— a process called presbyopia. Prior to this, the lens can easily change its shape and help the eye focus on close objects. As the lens stiffens, seeing objects closer than 2 feet becomes a challenge. 

As you progress down the middle age highway, you’ll likely experience frequent changes in your prescriptions and you might find that a single prescription just doesn’t cut the mustard. Welcome to the age of reading glasses and bifocals! Other changes might include an increase in floaters, which can resemble tiny spots, threads, or cobwebs floating around in your vision (or, if you’re like me, tiny little hotdogs),  dry eye (particularly around menopause), and an increased risk of developing  glaucoma. Because glaucoma is often symptomless until the disease is in its later stages, routine eye checks become even more important as glaucoma can be easily detected during an annual eye exam and early treatment can quite literally save your vision. 

Old Age Retirement 60+ :Eye health can change rapidly in older individuals, so listen up!

  • Cataracts frequently occur in patients over 60, as the proteins in the lens tend to clump together and obstruct light rays from entering the eye. Cataracts result in cloudy, blurred vision, difficulty seeing in lowlight conditions, halos, glare, etc. Without treatment, cataracts will gradually lead to blindness. 
  • Aged-related  macular degeneration (AMD) is another thing to look out for, a condition that involves the loss of central vision in one or both eyes. AMD is also the leading cause of blindness among seniors. Symptoms include distorted vision, loss of visual acuity, trouble distinguishing colors, and a loss in contrast sensitivity. Although AMD cannot be cured, it can be managed and its progression can be slowed with a focus on eye medication. 
  • Older adults need brighter light! People in their 60s need three times more light for comfortable reading than those in their twenties. Why? As we age, the pupil becomes smaller and less responsive to changes in lighting and the retina becomes less sensitive. As a result, seeing in dim light becomes much more difficult and bright sunlight and glare might cause significant discomfort after emerging from dimly lit areas (a movie theater, for example). 
  • Because the clear lens of the eye begins to yellow with age, seniors may also struggle with color perception.  Colors begin to lose their brightness and the contrast between different colors becomes less noticeable. Blues may look gray, and other colors may look washed out. 
  • Aging also comes with a loss of peripheral vision, and by the time you hit your 70s or 80s, you are at a much higher risk for car accidents. No, that’s not just ageism talking. The size of your visual field decreases by approximately one to three degrees per every decade of life, so an 80 year old may have a peripheral loss of 20 to 30 degrees. That’s pretty significant when you’re behind the wheel. 
  • Last but not least, let’s talk about vitreous detachment. The clear gel inside the eye (the vitreous) begins to liquify and pull away from the retina, causing an increase in floaters and occasional flashes of light. Although floaters and flashes are usually harmless, theycan signal the beginning of a detached retina, as seniors are at an increased risk. In this case, the patient should be treated immediately to prevent blindness. 

Eye Exams According To Age

How often you receive a comprehensive eye exam largely depends on your individual circumstances, but the American Optometric Association (AOA) does provide us with some basic guidelines according to age. The AOA recommends children with a family history of eye problems receive their first exam around 6 months old. Otherwise, children should receive an eye exam around the time they enter kindergarten (5-6). Once in school, the AOA recommends that children get their eyes checked every two years if no vision correction is required. This 2-year rule can continue into adulthood from 18-60, but anyone with vision problems should get checked every year. For those who are 60+, an eye exam should be a priority every single year.

Regardless of age, the eyes are constantly changing and it’s important to understand how these changes can affect your vision. Whether you need a comprehensive eye check for your peace of mind or some new eyeglasses with photochromic lenses or anti-reflective coatings,  book an appointment today!