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Aging Eyes

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Q:  My mother is in her late 50’s and seems to have more trouble seeing in general.  What is normal for our eyes as we age, and what is not normal?

A:  Your concern is a common one, so let’s first describe the expected changes as our birthdays add up.  While some people have less of these issues, or later in developing them, essentially no one escapes these:

Number one has to be near vision frustration.  The gradual stiffening of our internal focusing lens makes it tougher to focus clearly up close.  This generally begins to be noticed in our 40’s, but varies a lot.  Presbyopia is the medical name for this change that no one escapes.

Number two is cataracts.  That same internal lens, clear when we are young, becomes hazy then yellowish and finally brownish as we age.  Again, no one escapes this change, and cataract extraction is very common and safe today.  Blocking out UV radiation can delay this clouding significantly.

Three is dry eye disease.  Our tear and oil glands do not “work” as well later in life….resulting in less clear reading vision, and eventually dryness and scratchiness of our eyes.   Many treatments today can slow this change and restore more naturally moist and clear vision.

Now…..what is not normal?  Any sudden change in your eyesight is of real concern.  Many things can cause this:  vascular blockages, retinal detachments, diabetic ocular bleeding, and more.  While these are all painless, see your eye doctor quickly if such symptoms appear suddenly. 

Very gradual, but of great concern, would be macular degeneration.   Two forms, “wet” and “dry” can make your central vision less clear.  Typically most apparent with reading problems, macular disease is not curable, but can be slowed and some vision improvement may be achieved with prompt and proper treatment.  Again, UV exposure can accelerate this disease, and some dietary changes may be of benefit as well.

Finally, some good news!  Many people find their glasses prescription can get better with time.  Nearsighted patients often discover better vision with a milder prescription.  In general, all these concerns and more can be diagnosed with annual eye exams.  Don’t let your dental exams be your only annual health care!

May 15th Post (1)