Aging-Related Eye Diseases
I wear glasses and have done so since I was thirty-five years old. I started out with reading glasses, and I actually felt rather cool about it at the time! My mother once said to me, “Only wear your glasses when you really need to, or you will risk deterioration much quicker!" I don’t know if there was any truth in what she said because I did have a habit of leaving my glasses on when I wasn’t reading, but within three years, I was wearing bifocals. It seems to me that every two years, I need a stronger prescription, and this horrifies me, leaving me with “visions” of jam jar bottoms by the time I hit sixty!
Most of my family wears glasses, and all of us needed to wear them by the time we had hit our thirties or forties. Two of my children now wear glasses, and they are only in their late teens. They must take after their father, who wore glasses as a child. Bad eyesight can be a family affair!
We often take our eyesight, along with all our other senses for granted. Everything will be okay because our optician will just keep giving us the right glasses when we need them. As we get older our eyesight tends to deteriorate anyway, but we are also more prone to get eye diseases that, in some cases, can actually cause us to go blind. I am going to talk about three of the eye diseases that we may encounter as we age.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) can occur in either dry or wet forms, but the dry disease is the most common. My father has suffered with this condition for eight years, and it has certainly had an impact on his life.
The retina is a membrane situated at the back of the eye, through which we detect light. In the middle of the retina lies an area called the macula, which gives us our detailed central vision. There are increased light receptor cells in this area and “cones” which detect color. If we are looking at something directly in front of us, healthy eyes would be able to clarify details like shape and color very clearly. A person with macular degeneration has a blind spot in the centre of their vision, which causes blurred vision, so the clarity of the object is lost.
Information Help and Support - Macular Degeneration
Dry macular degeneration always occurs before wet degeneration and worsens over time. As we get older, tiny deposits known as drusen can collect under the retina, causing an uneven retina. At first this wouldn’t affect our field of vision, but with time and more build up of drusen there would be damage to the macula area and some sight loss. Light sensitive cells would become thinned down and eventually an advanced stage is reached. At this point we would have difficulty seeing any object in front of us clearly. It may only affect one eye and vision may be compensated for by the good eye. In this case it may take a while longer for us to realize that we even have a problem. In any case the progression of the disease may take years.
Information on Macular Degeneration
Symptoms of Dry Macular Degeneration
We may experience subtle difficulties in the early to intermediate stages of macular degeneration such as:
- Not seeing so well in dimly lit places – needing more light
- Finding such things as reading or needlework more difficult
- Blurriness when looking at an object head on and at close range
As the disease progresses to an advanced stage we would notice:
- Objects appearing less colorful
- Increasing blurriness/haziness of vision
Wet Macular Degeneration
It is impossible to tell if a dry degeneration will turn wet, but it still can in a small percentage of people, and at any stage. This change from dry to wet is usually sudden, too. If blood vessels from beneath the macula leak blood/fluid into the retina, the situation is much worse. Straight lines will be replaced by wavy lines on top of all the symptoms of dry macular disease. Eventually scarring can cause severe or total loss of central vision.
What Increases the Risk of Getting Macular Degeneration?
We may be at an increased risk of developing dry macular degeneration if any of the following apply:
- Over sixty years old
- A family member has suffered with it
- Sleep apnea
- High blood pressure
- White Caucasian
- High cholesterol
Cataracts affect the lens of one or both of our eyes and can develop as we age. Slow progressive clouding of the lens causes deterioration in vision which for a long time we may put down to natural aging “bad eyesight”. A large majority of us will have cataracts in our old age and may only learn that we have them through a routine eye check, but once this is identified we can look to find treatment. Many thousands of cataract operations are performed every year and on the whole are very successful.
Symptoms of Cataracts
Symptoms of cataracts slowly creep up and worsen over a number of years. Here are some of the symptoms we will experience:
- Oversensitivity to bright lights/glare
- Colors looking washed out or less clear
- Difficulty seeing well in dim light, very bright lights, sunlight
- Blurred vision
- Seeing things as misty
- Double vision
- Seeing things as if with a yellowish hue
- Frequent stronger prescriptions needed for nearsightedness
- Experience small dots or spots in your vision
- Seeing a circle of light surrounding a strong light such as headlights
As cataracts progress and become severe, a veil of grey/ milky color can be seen in the center of the eye. There are different types of cataracts but those affecting the elderly are most common.
Lady with Cataracts in Both Eyes
Long Term Smoking has an Effect on our Eyes
What Increases the Risk of Getting Cataracts?
- Old age
- Previous eye injury
- Drinking alcohol
- Too much exposure to direct sunlight
- A bad diet devoid of fresh healthy foods
- Long term use of steroids
An ophthalmologist will be consulted to assess the cataracts and your medical suitability to have a cataract operation. This operation replaces the bad lens with an artificial one and can be carried out as a day patient under local anesthetic.
A Doctor Explains Glaucoma
For many years, glaucoma has been primarily thought to be caused by pressure build up in the eyes, but there is a school of thought that suggests it should be thought of as a degenerative nerve disorder. Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases involving fluid build up, poor blood flow, and ultimately damage to the optic nerve. Some people with elevated pressure in their eyes do not have glaucoma, but equally some people with glaucoma do not have elevated pressure, so it is not a clear cut case of pressure. It is damage to the optic nerve that will lead to a diagnosis of glaucoma.
It is thought that many people are walking around totally unaware that they have the onset of glaucoma, probably because some people don’t feel the need to have regular eye checks. It is a serious disease that causes loss of vision and can cause blindness. The loss of vision is very gradual so can go undetected for a very long time. There are many types of glaucoma but primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common, generally associated with increasing age and the type being discussed here.
Symptoms of Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma
Symptoms are sorely lacking as the peripheral vision is affected first. Someone with early glaucoma would simply not notice anything amiss by way of symptoms. Vision that is lost is so slow to progress that by the time the optic nerve has become severely damaged, the disease is at a serious stage. This is why it is very important that regular eye checks are carried, especially as we age.
What Increases the Risks of Getting Glaucoma?
- Increasing age
- Those with African ancestry are at a much greater risk
- Family members who have glaucoma
- Nearsightedness (myopia)
- Previous eye injury
- Long term use of steroids
- Eye surgery
Helpful Glaucoma Website
- Glaucoma Research, Information, and Education
Funding groundbreaking research and educating the public about glaucoma
Interesting Research Article on Glaucoma and the Brain
Treatment for Glaucoma
Treatment for glaucoma is by way of eye drops to reduce eye pressure. Surgery or laser treatment can be performed in cases that do not respond to eye drop medication, or for those who do not tolerate the side effects of the eye drops. Cataracts are often seen at the same time as glaucoma and the two can be dealt with via surgery. Surgery for glaucoma will not bring back any sight that is lost, but can help save remaining sight by reducing pressure. Untreated glaucoma results in tunnel vision when all of the peripheral vision is lost, but taking the prescribed eye drops and attending regular check ups should help prevent total blindness or at the least slow down the progress of the disease.
Aging and Our Eyes
Low vision can be a natural part of growing older and we tend to accept this readily. We may not be able to prevent some eye disease but there are some things we can do to lessen the chances or reduce severity.
It is very important that we get regular check ups with our eye specialists, especially over the age of sixty. If we know we have eye disease in the family we should be doubly sure