Why our eyesight deteriorates with age

Post on 22nd June 2015

We all know that as we get older, our physical strength and energy levels decrease. So it should come as no surprise that our eyes also experience an age-related decline in performance.

It is perfectly normal for us to experience long-sightedness [presbyopia] as we reach middle and old age. This is caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye and the need for reading glasses becomes a must.

However, there are some eye conditions that are disease related and have greater potential for affecting our quality of life as grow older. Cataracts are extremely common and can be readily corrected with safe and effective surgery. A symptom of cataracts is blurred vision in which the lens of the eye has become opaque.

Scrivens optometrist Paul Sidhu says: “If you notice any change in your eyesight then you should get your eyes checked by your local high street optician. The earlier conditions such as cataracts are diagnosed the better for the chance of a full recovery.”

Unfortunately, there are more serious age-related eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy that if left untreated can lead to permanent blindness.

Macular degeneration (also called age-related macular degeneration or AMD) is the leading cause of blindness among older people and affects the central field of vision. The macula is located at the back of the eye and is responsible for seeing fine detail. When the macula is damaged, vision becomes blurred, especially in the middle section of your vision.

Glaucoma. Your risk of developing glaucoma increases with each decade after age 40, from around 1 per cent in your 40s to up to 12 per cent in your 80s. Paul added: “Glaucoma is relatively rare but the biggest problem in detection is that it causes no pain and vision loss is gradual over time. If left undetected, people may initially miss objects out of the corner of their eye or seem to be looking through a tunnel. Having regular eye tests is the best way you can ensure healthy vision for years to come.”

Diabetic retinopathy. Diabetes causes all sorts of medical complications, but one serious condition is diabetic retinopathy, the most common eye disease. While treatable, diabetic retinopathy – damage to the back of the eye (retina) – can become particularly dangerous when left untreated, causing some loss of vision and in extreme cases, blindness.  Again, a simple eye test can not only detect conditions such as diabetic retinopathy but also diabetes itself.

How Aging Affects Other Eye Structures

Other subtle changes in our vision and eye structures take place as we grow older. These changes include:

Reduced pupil size. As we age, muscles that control our pupil size and reaction to light lose some strength. This causes the pupil to become smaller and less responsive to changes in ambient lighting.

Because of these changes, people in their 60s need three times more ambient light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.

Also, seniors are more likely to be dazzled by bright sunlight and glare when emerging from a dimly lit building such as a theatre. Specialist photochromic lenses and anti-reflective coating can help reduce this problem.

Dry eyes. As we age, our bodies produce fewer tears. This is particularly true for women after menopause. If you begin to experience burning, stinging, or other eye discomfort related to dry eyes, use artificial tears as needed throughout the day for comfort.

Loss of peripheral vision. Ageing also causes a normal loss of peripheral vision, with the size of our visual field decreasing by approximately one to three degrees per decade of life. Because the loss of visual field increases the risk for driving accidents, make sure you are more cautious when behind the wheel of a car.

Decreased colour vision. Cells in the retina that are responsible for normal colour vision decline in sensitivity as we age, causing colours to become less bright and the contrast between different colours to be less noticeable.

Vitreous detachment. As we age, the gel-like vitreous inside the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina, causing spots and floaters and occasionally flashes of light. Floaters and flashes can signal the start of a detached retina — a serious problem that can cause blindness if not treated immediately.

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