Do you want healthy eyes? What you need to know at age 40 and up: Harvard Health Blog


Did the printing of this label suddenly shrink? If you’re 40 or older, you may have asked yourself this question while having trouble reading something you used to see clearly without any problems.

Blame your aged eyes. Like our joints, our eyes experience age-related changes. Although eye problems can affect people of any age, some conditions become more common after the age of 40.

Growing up? Three common eye conditions

Presbyopia. The lens of the eye becomes stiffer with age, making it harder to focus on nearby objects, hence you can read the labels. Many people find satisfaction with cheap reading glasses, but once you need them, it’s time to take a look at middle-aged vision.

Cataracts. Another common condition that can arise as we age is cataracts, an opacity of the lens of the eye that can impair vision. Cataracts affect about half of people aged 65 to 74 years. Treatment usually involves an outpatient surgical procedure to replace the clouded lens.

Dry eye syndrome. This condition affects more than 15 million adults in the United States and occurs due to a reduction in tear production. With less natural lubrication, the eyes may become irritated, sticky, or feel a burning or scratching sensation in the eyes. Depending on the severity, the symptoms can be treated with eye drops that mimic natural tears, a topical prescription drug, or a device to increase tear production.

Additional eye conditions that can occur with age or disease

Post-release glass (PVD). Signs of this condition include visual disturbances, such as seeing streaks of light, floats, or cobweb-like fog. These occur because the gelatinous substance called vitreous in the eye begins to liquefy and shrink, causing it to stretch into the retina.

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you notice these signs. Although most people with PVD do not need treatment, in some cases the vitreous can completely separate from the retina or tear it off. A tear or detachment can cause vision loss and requires a laser procedure or surgery to fix the problem, according to the American Society of Retinal Specialists.

Glaucoma. Another condition that becomes more common after the age of 40 is glaucoma. This painless condition, which often has no symptoms, damages the optic nerve that transmits information from the eyes to the brain. When left untreated, glaucoma can cause loss of peripheral or central vision. Very often, glaucoma is treated with prescription eye drops designed to reduce eye pressure. Less often, your doctor may recommend a laser procedure or surgery.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition causes degeneration of the retina, a thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye. Retinal light-sensitive cells capture images and transmit them to the brain through the optic nerve. AMD affects a central part of the retina called the macula. It can lead to blurred or distorted vision and possibly to a blind spot in a person’s field of vision. Treatment, which may include medication or laser therapy, can often help prevent or at least delay vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy. This condition also causes damage to the retina. For people with diabetes, keeping blood sugar and blood pressure under control helps prevent diabetic retinopathy. If detected, your eye specialist will recommend treatment, usually eye injections or laser therapy.

Easy ways to maintain eye health

Many eye conditions can be effectively treated to protect your vision if caught early. Therefore, it is advisable to have regular eye exams, detect possible problems and address them before they affect vision.

You can also take other steps to ensure that your eyes stay healthy, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays by wearing sunglasses outdoors.

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