Did you know that
many older people have good eyesight into their 80ís and beyond? Growing
older does not always mean you see poorly. But age brings changes that
can weaken your eyes.
There are some easy
things to try when these changes happen. You might add brighter lights
in more places around the house--like at work counters, stairways, and
favorite reading places. This may help you see better and can sometimes
prevent accidents caused by weak eyesight.
While older people
have more eye problems and eye diseases than younger people, you can prevent
or correct many of them by:
- Seeing your doctor
regularly to check for diseases like diabetes, which could cause eye
problems if not treated.
- Having a complete
eye exam with an eye specialist every 1 to 2 years. Most eye diseases
can be treated when they are found early. The eye doctor should enlarge
(dilate) your pupils by putting drops in your eyes. This is the only
way to find some eye diseases that have no early signs or symptoms.
The eye doctor should test your eyesight, your glasses, and your eye
muscles. You should also have a test for glaucoma.
- Taking extra care
if you have diabetes or a family history of eye disease. Have an eye
exam through dilated pupils every year. See an eye doctor at once if
you have any loss or dimness of eyesight, eye pain, fluids coming from
the eye, double vision, redness, or swelling of your eye or eyelid.
Common Eye Complaints
(prez-bee-OH-pee-uh) is a slow loss of ability to see close objects or
small print. It is a normal process that happens over a lifetime. You
may not notice any change until after the age of 40. People with presbyopia
often hold reading materials at armís length. Some get headaches or "tired
eyes" while reading or doing other close work. Presbyopia is often
corrected with reading glasses.
tiny spots or specks that float across the field of vision. Most people
notice them in well-lit rooms or outdoors on a bright day. Floaters often
are normal, but sometimes they warn of eye problems such as retinal detachment,
especially if they happen with light flashes. If you notice a sudden change
in the type or number of spots or flashes, see your eye doctor.
Dry eyes happen
when tear glands donít make enough tears or make poor quality tears. Dry
tears can be uncomfortable, causing itching, burning, or even some loss
of vision. Your eye doctor may suggest using a humidifier in the home
or special eye drops ("artificial tears"). Surgery may be needed
for more serious cases of dry eyes.
having too many tears, can come from being sensitive to light, wind, or
temperature changes. Protecting your eyes (by wearing sunglasses, for
instance) sometimes solves the problem. Tearing may also mean that you
have a more serious problem, such as an eye infection or a blocked tear
duct. Your eye doctor can treat or correct both of these conditions.
Eye Diseases and
Disorders Common in Older People
cloudy areas in part or all of the eye lens. The lens is usually clear
and lets light through. Cataracts keep light from easily passing through
the lens, and this causes loss of eyesight. Cataracts often form slowly
and cause no pain, redness, or tearing in the eye. Some stay small and
donít change eyesight very much. If a cataract becomes large or thick,
it usually can be removed by surgery.
During surgery, the
doctor takes off the clouded lens and, in most cases, puts in a clear,
plastic lens. Cataract surgery is very safe. It is one of the most common
surgeries done in the United States.
from too much fluid pressure inside the eye. It can lead to vision loss
and blindness. The cause of glaucoma is unknown. If treated early, glaucoma
often can be controlled and blindness prevented. To find glaucoma, the
eye doctor will look at your eyes through dilated pupils. Treatment may
be prescription eye drops, oral medications, or surgery. Most people with
glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain from increased pressure.
are a leading cause of blindness in the United States. The retina is a
thin lining on the back of the eye. It is made up of cells that get visual
images and pass them on to the brain. Retinal disorders include age-related
macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and retinal detachment.
macular degeneration. The macula is part of the eye with millions
of cells that are sensitive to light. The macula makes vision possible
from the center part of the eye. Over time, age-related macular degeneration
can ruin sharp vision needed to see objects clearly and to do common
tasks like driving and reading. In some cases, it can be treated with
- Diabetic retinopathy.
This disorder can result from diabetes. It happens when small blood
vessels stop feeding the retina properly. In the early stages, the blood
vessels may leak fluid, which distorts sight. In the later stages, new
vessels may grow and send blood into the center of the eye, causing
serious vision loss. In most cases, laser treatment can prevent blindness.
It is very important that people with diabetes have an eye exam through
dilated pupils every year.
- Retinal detachment.
This happens when the inner and outer layers of the retina become separated.
With surgery or laser treatment, doctors often can reattach the retina
and bring back all or part of your eyesight.
happens when the tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the cornea becomes
inflamed. It can cause itching, burning, tearing, or a feeling of something
in the eye. Conjunctivitis can be caused by infection or allergies.
and conditions can cause redness, watery eyes, pain, reduced vision,
or a halo effect. The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped "window"
at the front of the eye. It helps to focus light that enters the eye.
Disease, infection, injury, toxic agents, and other things can damage
the cornea. Treatments include changing the eyeglass prescription, eye
drops, or surgery.
is used to restore eyesight when the cornea has been hurt by injury or
disease. An eye surgeon replaces the scarred cornea with a healthy cornea
donated from another person. Corneal transplantation is a common treatment
that is safe and successful. The doctor may prescribe eyeglasses or contact
lenses after surgery.
can come from different diseases or conditions. The eyelids protect the
eye, distribute tears, and limit the amount of light entering the eye.
Pain, itching, tearing and sensitivity to light are common eyelid symptoms.
Other problems may include drooping eyelids (ptosis), blinking spasms
(blepharospasm), or inflamed outer edges of the eyelids near the eyelashes
(blepharitis). Eyelid problems often can be treated with medication or
causes the arteries in the temple area of the forehead to become swollen.
It can begin with a severe headache, pain when chewing, and tenderness
in the temple area. It may be followed in a few weeks by sudden vision
loss. Other symptoms can include shaking, weight loss, and low-grade fever.
Scientists donít know the cause of temporal arteritis, but they think
it may be a disorder of the immune system. Early treatment with medication
can help prevent vision loss in one or both eyes.
Low Vision Aids
Many people with eyesight
problems find low vision aids helpful. These are special devices that
are stronger than regular eyeglasses. Low vision aids include telescopic
glasses, lenses that filter light, and magnifying glasses. Also, there
are some useful electronic devices that you can either hold in your hand
or put directly on your reading material. People with only partial sight
often make surprising improvements using these aids.
A number of organizations
can send you more information:
The National Eye
Institute (NEI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH),
supports research on eye disease and the visual system. NEI can send you
free brochures on eye disorders. Write to the NEI, 2020 Vision Place,
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655; or call 301-496-5248.
The American Foundation
for the Blind can send a list of their free publications on vision.
Contact the Foundation at 11 Penn Plaza, Suite 300, New York, NY 10001;
or call 1-800-232-5463.
The American Optometric
Association provides free information to the public about vision and
eye care. Contact the Association at 243 North Lindbergh Boulevard, St.
Louis, MO 63141; or call 314-991-4100.
National Center for Vision and Aging serves as a national clearinghouse
for information on vision and aging. Contact the Center at 11 East 59th
Street, New York, NY 10022; or call 1-800-334-5497.
The National Association
for the Visually Handicapped is a voluntary health agency that works
with people who can partially see. Contact the Association at 22 West
21st Street, New York, NY 10010, or call 212-889-3141.
The National Eye
Care Project of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has a
helpline number to refer callers to local ophthalmologists who will volunteer
to provide needed medical care. This public service program brings eye
care and information to disadvantaged older people. Contact the AAO at
P.O. Box 6988, San Francisco, CA 94120-6988; or call 1-800-222-EYES.
The National Library
Service for the Blind and Visually Handicapped provides free library
services to people with vision problems and offers braille and large-print
materials, recorded books, and other periodicals. Contact the Service
at 1291 Taylor Street, NW, Washington, DC 20542; or call 1-800-424-8567.
The National Society
to Prevent Blindness has several free pamphlets on specific diseases
affecting the eyes. They also have Home Eye Test for Adults, which
is available for $1.25 (to cover the cost of postage and handling). Contact
the Society at 500 East Remington Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173-5611; or
The Vision Foundation
publishes the Vision Resource List, which includes information
on special products and service for people with visual impairments. Contact
the Foundation at 818 Mt. Auburn Street, Watertown, MA 02172; or call
The National Institute
on Aging (NIA), part of the NIH, distributes Age Pages and
other materials on a wide range of topics related to health and aging.
For a list of free publications contact NIAís Information Center at P.O.
Box 8057, Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8057; or call 800-222-2225, or 800-222-4225