Aging and Vision: Myths vs Facts
While you want the best information when it comes to changes in your vision, it can be difficult at times to tell fact from fiction. This can be the result of outdated science or bad advice from your friends.
At Hardin Valley Eyecare & Optical, we want to provide you with the best and up-to-date information on the topics that concern you most. To do that, we’re clearing up some myths about vision as you age and replacing them with facts. This will not only help you protect your short-term vision, but help you see clearly for years to come.
Being Farsighted and Having Presbyopia Are the Same Thing
Farsightedness and presbyopia both result in problems seeing objects that are close to your face. However, their causes are very different. Farsightedness, also known as hyperopia, occurs when there is a problem with the shape of your eyeball. In this case, the eyeball is shorter than an average eyeball.
Presbyopia, on the other hand, is a condition that develops as we age. It occurs as the lens of the eye increases in size and loses flexibility. This makes it more difficult to see close objects such as fine print or faces in photographs.
Presbyopia, or aging eyes, is a natural part of growing older. It can’t be prevented through means such as changes in your lifestyle habits, visual habits, or diet. Fortunately, it’s treatable using a variety of corrective lenses.
To treat your presbyopia, your eye doctor may recommend:
- Progressive lenses
- Corrective lenses
- Single-vision reading glasses
- Multifocal contact lenses
- Monovision therapy
Presbyopia isn’t anything to fear. It may require a new type of lens for your glasses or contacts. Some people may even find themselves wearing glasses for the first time with the development of presbyopia! What’s important to remember is that it’s a natural part of aging and your eye doctor will help you find the right solution for your particular situation.
Eye Floaters Are a Sign of Oncoming Blindness
You may have experienced eye floaters occasionally when you were younger, but you may have noticed them becoming more frequent as you get older. This causes many older people to worry about what it means for their vision. Well, there’s no need to worry. Eye floaters are a natural part of aging and are to be expected.
Most people get used to eye floaters as time passes, but they can be especially frustrating in the first few months of having them. Eye floaters rarely go away completely, though they may reoccur if they go away for a while. But as time goes by most people simply don’t notice them anymore.
So what are eye floaters? They commonly appear as transparent or dark spots that drift across your field of vision. They’re most noticeable if you’re looking at something bright like a lightbulb or the sun, or at a bright background such as a wall that’s been painted white.
Most eye floaters are the result of aging. As we get older, the vitreous (the clear liquid between the lens of the retina) of the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the inside of your eye. This causes shadows to form as light passes through your eye which results in floaters. About one-quarter of 60-year-olds and around two-thirds of 80-year-olds have eye floaters.
On the other hand, a sudden increase in eye floaters can be a sign of a retinal detachment or tear. Those who experience a sudden increase in floaters, flashes of light, or loss of vision should contact their eye doctor immediately.
Cataracts Can Be Reversed
Unfortunately, cataracts and their effects can’t be reversed. On the upside, you can have the lens of your eye surgically replaced. But before you resort to surgery, there are steps you can take to prevent cataracts. It is possible to hold off the effects of cataracts by:
- Avoiding exposure to UVA and UVB rays
- Eating a healthy diet
- Quitting smoking or never starting
Cataracts are a condition that affects the lens of the eye. When healthy, the lens is clear and light passes through easily. If you have cataracts then the lens has become clouded, resulting in dimmed or blurred vision.
As the leading cause of blindness, cataracts should be taken very seriously. It’s also one of the most common eye conditions associated with aging. In fact, you have a 50% chance of developing cataracts by age 65. This jumps to 70% by age 75.
Cataracts aren’t immediately noticeable. Instead, they’re a progressive condition that slowly affects your vision. This can be evident due to difficulty reading or performing daily tasks that used to be easy but have become more difficult.
Your doctor may suggest a stronger prescription for glasses or contacts if a cataract is caught early. However, they may get to the point that surgical treatments are required. In these cases, your eye doctor may recommend removing the cataract via surgery. Don’t be too alarmed. This is actually one of the most common and successful surgical procedures performed in the U.S.
Only the Elderly Are at Risk for Glaucoma
While older people are at higher risk for glaucoma, it can actually affect people of all ages, including newborn babies. They can develop congenital glaucoma. There are also other eye conditions that increase pressure in the eye, eventually causing a child to develop glaucoma.
Secondary glaucoma can also occur in full-grown adults with conditions such as uveitis. Other types of glaucoma affect people much younger than you may expect. For instance, pigmentary glaucoma often affects people between the ages of 20 and 50 years old. This just goes to show that glaucoma isn’t something only older people should be concerned about.
With that said, the risk of glaucoma does increase as we age. However, this is specifically in relation to open-angle glaucoma. People over the age of 70 are at significantly higher risk for developing this form of the disease than someone in their 40s.
Also known as “the silent thief of sight,” glaucoma is the result of increased pressure in the eyes. It can go unnoticed in its early stages but it will eventually lead to a decrease in peripheral vision and can result in blindness if left untreated.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from the effects of glaucoma is to watch your blood sugar. While the connection isn’t clear, diabetics are twice as likely to develop glaucoma. Another important preventative step is getting comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis.
Wet AMD and Dry AMD Are Separate Conditions
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) comes in two types: wet and dry. While there are two types of AMD, the fact is that both involve the deterioration of the macula. The macula is the center of the retina and is responsible for giving us clear central vision. The difference between wet AMD and dry AMD is in how they affect your vision.
Dry AMD occurs when the tissue that comprises the macula becomes thin. At the same time, deposits of fatty proteins known as drusen begin to accumulate. Wet AMD, on the other hand, occurs when blood vessels begin to form under the retina. While this is the body’s attempt at boosting its own blood supply, the vessels are weak and unstable. These new blood vessels scar the macula by leaking fluid which speeds up the process of vision loss.
The majority of people who experience macular degeneration will have dry AMD. While this may not concern you at first, around 10 – 20% of people with dry AMD will eventually develop wet AMD.
Fortunately, treatments exist for both types of AMD. Those with dry AMD can take vitamins that help reduce the risk of it becoming worse. Those with wet AMD can receive eye medication that stops the growth of blood vessels and leakage. Both groups benefit from sunglasses that protect the macula from the effects of UV radiation from the sun.
Diabetic Retinopathy Will Eventually Lead to Blindness
When left unchecked, high blood sugar can injure the back wall of your eye, also known as the retina. While it’s true that diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of vision loss for diabetics, that doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to go blind if you have it. The important thing is to keep your blood sugar in check to avoid severe problems such as vision loss.
Diabetes can affect your vision in a number of ways. A broad term for conditions resulting from diabetes is diabetic eye disease. This general term encompasses eye diseases that can result from type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Common diabetic eye diseases include:
- Diabetic retinopathy
Diabetic eye diseases often have no symptoms in their early stages. Like many other eye problems on this list, it’s important to get comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis so that your eye doctor can look for any changes to the health of your eyes. In the case of diabetic retinopathy, your doctor will be able to spot damaged blood vessels located in the retina.
You should be taking note of any changes to your vision, as well. Common symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include blurred vision, limited ability to see color, and fluctuating vision.
Only Kids Get Pink Eye
We often associate pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, with kids. However, the millions of Americans who annually develop the condition consist of both adults and children. It is true that kids get it more often and for good reason. Children are more likely to engage in behaviors that increase their chances of developing pink eye.
The main way that pink eye spreads is through hand-to-eye contact. As you can imagine, children are much more likely to touch their eyes and face without washing their hands. This is also why pink eye tends to spread in daycares or schools where there are a lot of kids in close proximity to each other.
So what is pink eye? This eye disease occurs when the conjunctiva of the eye gets infected. The conjunctiva is the thin membrane that covers and protects the eyeball as well as the inner surface of the eyelid. Irritants such as allergens, bacteria, or viruses get past this protective barrier and cause infection, resulting in corneal inflammation.
Symptoms for corneal inflammation include:
- Increased tearing of the eye
- Increased discharge from the eye
- The whites of the eyes becoming redder
Pink eye is a highly infectious eye disease and should be taken very seriously. Milder cases can experience improvement in a couple of weeks. On the other hand, pink eye poses a serious threat if you’re not treated. Pink eye is also highly contagious, which is one more reason why you should contact your eye doctor immediately if you suspect that you have it.
Drooping Eyelids are Purely A Cosmetic Concern
Our eyelids are prone to sagging as we age. Medically known as ptosis, drooping eyelids occur when their supportive muscles become weak with age, though it can also result from:
- Problem with the nervous system
- Eye injuries
- Botox injections
While it is true that drooping eyelids are often a cosmetic concern, you can experience issues with vision. This happens when the muscles become so weak that eyelids end up partially or even completely covering the pupil of the eye. This can make daily tasks more difficult and even dangerous in the case of driving.
You’ll need to undergo a medical exam before receiving treatment for drooping eyelids to figure out what’s causing them. Once the cause has been established, such as ptosis, your doctor will provide the needed treatment to restore your vision and help you see more clearly. In the case of Botox injections, you may have to wait for the treatment’s effects to wear off.
Sometimes drooping eyelids aren’t the result of a treatable disease. In these cases, your best option may be surgery to fix the problem. The goal of this procedure is to surgically remove and allow the eyelid to lift. This procedure is usually covered by insurance but requires that it negatively impact your vision.
Blepharitis and Dry Eyes Are the Same Thing
Inflammation of the eyelid is known as blepharitis and is a common eye condition for older people. It can be caused by a variety of factors including bacterial infections, problems with the oil glands near the base of the eyelids, or skin conditions such as dermatitis.
Blepharitis causes dry eyes by decreasing the amount of lipids in your tears. Lipids help prevent tears from evaporating from your eyes, but a lack of them results in eyelids that are:
Those with blepharitis may also experience watery and red eyes.
If you have blepharitis, your eyecare professional may recommend artificial tears or prescribe steroids to provide relief. They may also recommend warm compresses, lid scrubs, antibiotic ointments, and omega-3 fish oil to treat the problem.
Older People Experience the Same Amount of Dry Eye
It’s true that your eyes will become more dry as you age with most people over the age of 65 experiencing it in some form. But this doesn’t mean that everyone experiences the same amount of dry eye. Gender also plays a role in the severity of dry eye that you may experience.
This is why older women are more likely to experience dry eye than older men. While older men are still prone to the condition, older women are at an increased risk due to hormonal changes resulting from:
- Oral contraceptives
Other medical conditions can also play a part in developing dry eye. For instance, those with diabetes, thyroid problems, and arthritis are at higher risk. Other problems such as blepharitis or inflammation of the surface of the eye can contribute to the development of dry eye.
Dry eye is caused by either not producing enough tears or by producing low-quality tears. Your eyecare professional is best equipped to diagnose the cause of your dry eyes and prescribe a treatment for the condition. This can be by using tear drops in mild cases or prescription tear drops in more severe cases. Other treatments may be recommended depending on the severity of the condition.
Protecting Your Vision as You Age
The best thing you can do for your vision as you get older is to start getting comprehensive or dilated eye exams. This type of exam uses eye drops to dilate the pupils and give your eye doctor a deeper look into your eye to spot any problems or warning signs with your vision.
This helps them to spot conditions such as:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Diabetic retinopathy
And that’s just to name a few.
You should start getting yearly comprehensive eye exams on a regular basis if you meet certain criteria. Certain populations are at higher risk of vision-related disorders. African-Americans, for example, are at higher risk of glaucoma and cataracts, and so people in this category should have a comprehensive eye exam starting at age 40. Other risk factors include:
- Being 60 years old or more
- A family history of glaucoma
- High blood pressure
Comprehensive eye exams are one of the best things you can do for your vision. They’ll help you and your eye doctor stay on top of your eye health and catch any changes before they become big problems.