Vision and the aging eye

Courtesy of ORBIS US on Flickr

Courtesy of ORBIS US on Flickr

Many patients reach a certain life stage and realize they need to start thinking more about their vision and preventing eye problems.  This usually happens in their early to mid-forties when people notice reading is a lot easier when there’s plenty of light and the print is held further away.  Those who have seen an eye care provider for this problem should have already discovered that this is a normal aging process.  But how does one know when vision changes are normal or should be concerning?

Eye conditions that impact vision:

  • Presbyopia is the medical term for when the focusing muscles in the eye are not as flexible, causing poor focusing ability for objects nearby.  This typically occurs in the late thirties/early forties and is easily corrected with reading glasses or bifocal or progressive lenses.
  • Cataracts begin to develop in our forties and progress over time.  There is a natural clear crystalline lens in our eye which focuses light onto our retina.  With ultraviolet ray exposure, this lens can become more opaque and yellow over time, causing a dimming of vision and glare and haloes around lights.  The best way to prevent cataracts from progressing quickly is to protect the eyes with UV-blocking sunglasses anytime you are outdoors.  The good news about cataracts is that they can be easily removed and replaced with an artificial lens implant.  With the latest technology of intraocular lens implants such as muiltifocal lenses, patients are now able to see clearly at all distances without the use of glasses or reading glasses.
  • Glaucoma is a symptomless eye disease of the optic nerve head where the nerve slowly deteriorates over time.  Most patients who develop glaucoma will not have any symptoms until the late stages of the disease, when peripheral vision deteriorates and patients are left with tunnel vision.  There is no cure or preventative measure for glaucoma, however, it is easily treated with eyedrops.  The only way to determine if you have glaucoma is to have annual comprehensive eye examinations.

    Courtesy of Nargopolis on Flickr

    Courtesy of Nargopolis on Flickr

  • Macular Degeneration is another common eye disease that can cause debilitating vision loss.  This occurs when the macular region of the retina loses its integrity causing poor central vision with distortion or gray spots.  It is often detected upon routine examination, especially when photos of the retina are compared over time.  Fortunately, there have been extensive studies on macular degeneration and the field has changed dramatically over the last several years.  An important test in recent years is genetic testing to determine one’s risk factor for vision loss as a result of macular degeneration, as well as antioxidants that may be useful in reducing this risk.  Clear risk factors include a history of smoking, exposure to ultraviolet radiation, increased cholesterol levels and Caucasian women with lighter eyes and fairer complexions.
  • Retinal Detachment tends to occur more often in those who are older than 65.  The retina is a thin and fragile tissue that lines the back wall of the eye and sends visual information to the brain.  This tissue becomes more fragile over time and can easily develop a hole or tear leading to a retinal detachment.  If you experience flashes of light, new floaters, or a change in your vision, you need to be seen right away by your eyecare provider.

There are a myriad of eye conditions that can develop as one ages.  The most important and useful method of preventing vision loss is to stay healthy.  See your primary care physician regularly to evaluate and treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other health conditions.  If you have uncontrolled health conditions, you can easily lose your vision to diabetic retinopathy, hypertensive retinopathy, or a stroke in the eye.

So, as I tell all my patients, see your physician regularly, eat green leafy vegetables, take your medications, and monitor your own blood pressure or blood sugar.  And of course, wear sunglasses outdoors and see your optometrist annually.

~Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org

Dry Eye Disease

If you ever have stinging, burning, gritty or sandy sensation, excessive tearing or itchy eyes, you may have symptoms of dry eye disease.

Dry eye disease is a condition where you don’t have enough tears or have poor quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears maintain the health of the front surface of the eye and provide good vision. Dry eye disease is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults. Advanced dry eyes may damage the front surface of the eye and impair vision.

The front surface of the eye is called the cornea. With each blink of the eyelids, tears are spread across the front surface of the eye. Tears are produced by several glands in and around the eyes. The tear film is composed of nutrients, electrolytes, proteins and lubricants. Tears provide lubrication, reduce the risk of eye infection, clear the eye of foreign matter, and keep the surface of the eyes intact and clear. Tears drain from the eyes into small drainage ducts called puncta in the corners of the eyelids, which drain in the back of the nose.

Courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous on Flickr

Courtesy of Clearly Ambiguous on Flickr

If there are any irregularities in the tear film, symptoms of dry eye may manifest. Dry eye disease may limit daily activities including reading, driving, working on the computer or wearing contact lenses.

Many different factors cause dry eye. These are some of the most common:

1) Hormones: Dry eye disease is more common in people 50 years old or older. Hormonal changes that are common in women experiencing menopause can cause dry eye.

2) Systemic diseases: Other systemic diseases including diabetes, glaucoma, Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can exacerbate the symptoms of dry eye.

3) Medications: Medications including antihistamines, hormonal replacement therapy and androgen therapy may contribute to dry eyes.

4) The environment: Environmental factors such as pollen or allergies, working on the computer or contact lens wear can make dry eyes worse.

Dry eye disease is diagnosed by patient history. In diagnosing dry eye disease, your doctor of optometry will evaluate the symptoms, general health problems, medications or environmental factors that contribute to dry eye disease. Your doctor will perform an external examination of the eyes including the eyelid structure and blink dynamics. Your doctor will evaluate the eyelids, cornea and conjunctiva is performed using bright light and magnification. Measurement of the quantity and quality of tears is assessed for any abnormalities. From this information, your doctor of optometry can determine if you have dry eyes and advise you on treatment options.

Treatments for dry eyes include:

  • over the counter artificial tears,
  • punctal plugs (small plastic pieces that close the ducts that drain tears out of the eyes),
  • eyelid hygiene,
  • dietary supplementation,
  • or a prescription eyedrop called Restasis (cyclosporine 0.05%).

If you experience any of theses symptoms, contact your doctor of optometry and ask for a dry eye evaluation.

~ Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO