Conditions that can Affect the Eyes
Eyes — providing us with one of our five major senses (hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting) — will make our "golden years" more endurable if they remain healthy. Most people have eye problems at one time or another. Some are minor and will go away, or they are easily treatable. Others need a specialist's care.
Whether your vision isn't what it used to be, or never was that great, there are things you can do to keep your eyes healthy. Taking care of your eyes is as important as taking care of your teeth, your toenails, or your heart.
Here, in no particular order, are some of the more common issues that older adults face when it comes to eye health (always check with your doctor if symptoms are bad or don't clear up within a few days):
- Eyestrain: This occurs when we overuse our eyes. Watching TV, reading, working at the computer — all of these activities can cause eye strain. Rest your eyes several times a day by taking a break.
- Night Blindness: It gets harder to see at night as we age. If your night blindness is caused by nearsightedness or cataracts, it can be treated. Unfortunately, other causes involve diseases or genetics and can't be treated.
- Macular degeneration: Age-related macular degeneration is the physical disturbance of the center of the retina called the macula. It is the leading cause of severe, irreversible vision loss in people over 60. Early signs include shadowy areas, fuzzy vision, or distorted vision. At this time, unfortunately, there is no treatment which will reverse the damage, but some drugs may slow or prevent additional vision loss or even improve remaining vision to some extent. People with advanced macular degeneration are considered legally blind.
- Cataracts: A healthy lens is clear like a camera lens and allows light to go through, but as cataracts form, the lens of the eye gradually becomes opaque and vision mists over. There may be a glare or a halo around lights at night. Some cataracts stay small but if they do progress in size, surgery usually works to bring some vision back.
- Colour Blindness: This occurs when the colour cells in your eye are absent or don't work. At its most severe, a person can see only in shades of gray, but this is rare. Most people who have it are born with it, but it can occur later in life as a result of some drugs and diseases. It can be diagnosed easily by a eye doctor.
- Crossed Eyes (Strabismus): Crossed eyes occur when a person's eyes are not able to align on the same point at the same time, and appear to be misaligned or pointed in different directions. This problem doesn't go away on its own, but an ophthalmologist can correct it.
- Diabetic Macular Edema: DME is caused by fluid accumulation in the macula. Patients with DME typically experience blurred vision which can be severe.
- Eye Floaters: Floaters appear as small specks or clouds that move across your field of vision, especially when you are looking at a bright, plain background, like a blank wall or a cloudless blue sky. Floaters are usually normal, but they sometimes can be a sign of a more serious eye problem, like retinal detachment (when the retina at the back of your eye separates from the layer underneath). If you notice a sudden change in the type or number of spots or flashes you see or a new dark "curtain"in your peripheral vision, go to your eye doctor as soon as possible.
- Dry Eyes: If your eye can't make good-quality tears, you might have a dry eye. You might feel as though something is in your eye, or it's burning. Some treatments include: using a humidifier, eye drops, eyelid creams, and possibly nutritional supplements.
- Glaucoma: This occurs when a build-up of fluid in the eye creates pressure, damaging the optic nerve. Your eye is like a tire: some pressure inside it is normal and safe. But levels that are too high can damage your optic nerve causing glaucoma. Symptoms usually do not occur early, so it's important to have regular eye exams to test for this condition. Glaucoma can be caused by an injury to the eye, blocked blood vessels, or inflammatory disorders of the eye — but they are rare. Treatment usually includes prescription eye drops or surgery.
- Retinal Detachment: When the retina detaches, the light sensitive membrane in the back of the eye becomes separated from the nerve tissue and blood supply underneath it. It's important to get an early diagnosis and have this treated immediately.
- Eyelid Twitching: Sometimes your eyelid simply twitches! Fortunately, it usually stops.
- Visual Acuity: The most common vision problems are refractive errors, more commonly known as nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia (which occurs later in life and makes it difficult to see things close up). These errors occur when the shape of the eye prevents light from focusing directly on the retina. As we age, our vision changes. We may have more difficulty reading, seeing distances, or using the computer. Sometimes different corrections are needed.
- Corneal Diseases: The cornea is the clear, dome-shaped window at the front of your eye. It helps to focus the light that comes in. Disease, infection, injury, and exposure to toxins can damage it. Signs include red eyes, watery eyes, pain, and reduced vision. Treatment includes eyeglasses, medicated eye drops, or surgery, depending on the condition.
General Eye Care
Here are some suggestions from the Canadian Association of Optometrists for good eye health care:
- Rest your eyes from televisions, computer screens, iPads, iPhones, and any other "screen device". If using a computer, take a break every 20-30 minutes.
- Get regular eye exams — every year.
- Stop smoking. Research shows that eyes are affected by the smoke.
- Wear protective eyewear when appropriate.
- Use sunglasses, even in the winter, as UV rays can harm the eyes.
You might also like to read:
- The Aging Process: What to Expect
- Genetics and Our Health: How much can we control
- Insomnia: Habitual Sleeplessness
- Medications of all Stripes: Use them with Knowledge
- Seeing Your Doctor: When Should you go?
- Taking Care of Yourself FIRST
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.