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A Glossary of Age-Related Vision Problems and Disorders

Vision changes are normal as you get older, but vision loss is not. Learn the most common eye conditions to watch for.

A Glossary of Age-Related Vision Problems and Disorders

It’s probably not a surprise that as you age, your vision is among the things that will change. And some of this change is perfectly normal—if you need a little more light to see clearly or words get harder to read on a page, that’s a good indication that it’s time for some “readers,” for instance.

Age-Related Vision Problems
However, actually losing vision isn’t normal. There are several eye conditions to be aware of which are common with age:

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people 50 and older. This condition affects the macula, the area of the eye responsible for central vision, such as seeing faces. It begins as "dry" AMD, which can be monitored, and then progresses to "wet" AMD, which needs regular treatment. Treatment may include injections with anti-VEGF medications or laser eye surgery.

Cataracts: Cataracts will happen to almost everyone, if they live long enough. With this condition, the lens of the eye gets cloudy, causing blurry vision and trouble seeing at night. Cataracts are treatable through surgery to implant a clear lens in eye.

Dry eyes: Dry eyes occur when the tear glands can't produce enough tears, causing itchy eyes or even some vision loss. Special eye drops can help. In more serious cases, surgery may be needed.

Glaucoma: Another common age-related problem, glaucoma is a group of eye conditions that damages the optic nerve in the back of your eye, potentially causing vision loss or blindness. It can be treated with eye drops, laser treatment, or surgery.

Presbyopia: This is where objects up close appear blurry. This condition doesn’t cause vision loss, but it can lead to headaches or feeling eye strain. It can be corrected with reading glasses or bifocals.

Retinal Disorders
It’s also good to be aware of retinal disorders, which are the leading cause of blindness in the United States. The retina is the inside lining of the eye, which is sensitive to light and takes in visual information. To varying degrees, risk for each of these conditions increases with age.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD): As mentioned above, AMD occurs when the macula—the center of the retina—deteriorates, affecting your central vision. As it progresses, AMD needs to be treated with eye injections or laser surgery to avoid vision loss.

Diabetic retinopathy: If you have diabetes, over time, elevated blood sugar can damage the blood vessels inside your retina. This can cause eye pressure or pain, double vision, and blurry vision, among other symptoms. It can be remedied with laser treatment or surgery.

Macular hole: A small hole in the macula can cause blurry vision and loss of central vision. A macular hole is most common in people over 60. Although the symptoms are similar to AMD, they are different conditions. While some macular holes may heal on their own, they often require surgery.

Retinal detachment: Retinal detachment—when the retina gets detached from its normal position—is a medical emergency that requires surgery. Symptoms include seeing "floaters" in your field of vision, and light flashes. This occurs most often in people over the age of 40.

While the thought of losing vision can be frightening, remember that all of these conditions can be diagnosed by your eye doctor, which is why regular eye exams are so important. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people 55 and over have a comprehensive eye exam every 1 to 3 years, and that people 65 and over have one every 1 to 2 years. This will help your eye doctor stay on top of any changes to your eye and help you preserve vision as you age.

Medically reviewed in January 2021.

Sources:
University of Utah. "Vision Changes as We Age: What's Normal, What's Not?"
American Optometric Association. "Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age."
National Eye Institute. "Age-Related Macular Degeneration."
Cleveland Clinic. "Common Age-Related Eye Problems."
Phone Interview. Timothy G. Murray, MD, MBA.
Mayo Clinic. "Wet macular degeneration."
American Academy of Ophthalmology. "What Are Cataracts?"
National Eye Institute. "Glaucoma."
VMR Institute. "What is the Retina?"
BrightFocus Foundation. "The Function of the Normal Macula."
MedlinePlus. "Diabetic Eye Problems."
National Eye Institute. "Macular Hole."
MedlinePlus. "Retinal Detachment."
American Academy of Ophthalmology. "American Academy of Ophthalmology Provides Information to the Public on Online Vision Testing for Corrective Eyeglass Prescriptions."

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