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Senior woman playing a board game
Senior woman playing a board game

Seniors’ Eye Conditions

Your eyesight changes as you get older, sometimes significantly—which is why regular eye exams are even more important as we age. Don't skip your recommended annual eye exams.

Many eye diseases have no early symptoms; they may be painless, and you may see no change in your vision until the disease has become quite advanced. If you are experiencing any unusual vision symptoms, see your eye doctor immediately.

As you age, it is normal to notice changes in your vision such as:

  • Losing the ability to see up close (known as farsightedness, or hyperopia)
  • Difficulty distinguishing between colors, such as blue from black
  • Requiring more time for your eyes to adjust to changing levels of light

These common problems are often easily correctable. With aging also comes a higher likelihood of developing systemic health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes—all of which can cause serious damage to your eyes.

A regular eye exam is the best way to protect your eyesight—it is particularly important if you notice a change in your vision, if your eye is injured in any way, or if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of eye disease. In your 40s and 50s, you should have an eye exam at least every two years (or as recommended by your eye doctor); problems could develop without any signs or symptoms.

Eye Diseases + Conditions

In older adults, many of the following eye problems can lead to vision loss and blindness. Many may have few to no early symptoms, so seeing your eye doctor is the best way to protect yourself. If they detect a problem early, there are often steps that can be taken. Your eye doctor will check for signs and symptoms of the following conditions:

  • Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD): AMD is a condition that affects the center of the retina, called the macula. This condition can harm the sharp, central vision that is needed to see objects clearly and perform common tasks such as reading and driving. Your eye doctor will check for signs of AMD during a dilated eye exam. There are treatments available, as well as eye vitaminslink-out icon and dietary supplements, that can lower your chances of it getting worse.
  • Diabetic Retinopathy (DR): DR is a complication of diabetes in which blood vessels in the eye are damaged, allowing fluid to escape. It is a leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. It generally develops slowly and often has no early warning signs. If you have diabetes, it is recommended that you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once a year. Controlling your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol can help prevent or slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy in its early stages. Laser surgery during later stages can sometimes prevent the condition from worsening.

See Also: Diabetic Macular Edema (DME):

  • Dry Eye: Dry eye is a common and treatable condition that occurs when your eyes don't make enough tears to stay wet or when your tears don't work correctly. People tend to make fewer tears as they age as a result of hormonal changes. Other causes include extended contact lens wear, screen time, reading or other activities that reduce blinking and tear production. Dry eye is more common in women—especially those who have gone through menopause. This condition can cause discomfort, including a stinging, burning or sandy sensation in the eyes. Your eye doctor may recommend a humidifier, artificial tears or ointments as treatment. More severe cases sometimes warrant prescription medication, tear duct plugs or surgery.

*Based on standardized testing (ISO 11981) on soft contact lenses. Not meant to lubricate or rewet lenses.

Signs of an Eye Emergency

See an eye care professional right away if you experience:

  • Sudden loss or severe blurring of vision
  • Sudden increase in floaters or flashes
  • Eye pain
  • Double vision
  • Redness or swelling of eye or eyelid
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Extreme sensitivity to light

Tips for Healthy Eyes

There are steps you can take to protect your eyes at any age:

Signs + Symptoms of Eye Conditions

Remember, this information is not meant to replace your regularly scheduled eye examinations. The best way to detect and monitor for conditions affecting your eyes—especially as you age—is to see your eye doctor.

  • Cloudy Vision
    If your vision seems dim or you’re having trouble reading, watching television or just seeing what’s around you—even when you’re wearing your glasses or contact lenses—you may have cataracts in one or both eyes. Age-related cataracts are the most common type of cataracts; as we age, the lenses inside our eyes become more cloudy. Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures in the United States. It safely gets rid of cataracts and corrects corresponding vision problems.
  • Distorted Vision
    The effects of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in its early stages often go unnoticed. In AMD, the macula, the part of your retina that’s responsible for central vision, deteriorates and creates a blind spot in the middle of your field of vision. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in people over 50, but it progresses slowly. Your eye doctor will check for this disease during your annual eye examination.
  • Floating Spots + Flashes of Light

    We all occasionally see spots, specks and other things that look like dark bits of string floating in our eyes. These are actually cells and fibers in the vitreous—the gel-like fluid that fills the eye. You will most often notice floaters when looking at something plain, such as a blank wall or blue sky.

    Floaters are usually infrequent, isolated occurrences that are a perfectly normal part of vision. The vitreous gel thickens and shrinks as we age, sometimes forming tiny clumps. These clumps cast shadows onto the retina, and the resulting forms and shapes are referred to as eye floaters.

    If you suddenly see more floaters than normal, and they’re accompanied by bright, flashing lights, the floaters may be a warning sign of an impending retinal detachment—an actual tear between the vitreous part of the eye and the retina. If left untreated, this tear can expand and lead to vision loss. See your eye doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.
  • Loss of Peripheral Vision
    If you’ve noticed that you don’t have the side-to-side (peripheral) vision you’re used to, this may be an early sign of glaucoma. Glaucoma often develops with no symptoms, making it difficult for patients to detect until significant (and potentially irreversible) damage has been done. For this reason, it is important to frequently be checked by an eye doctor for ocular hypertension (a condition that causes high pressure in the eye), which can mean a person is at high risk for glaucoma.
  • Low Vision/Vision Loss

    Few individuals are totally without sight. When ordinary glasses or contact lenses don't produce clear vision, you are considered to have low vision.

    While regular eye examinations and early diagnosis of eye disease can save much of your vision, in some cases, you may already have incurred some vision loss before you see your doctor and begin treatment. There are many possible causes of low vision, with the most common being age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Low vision is more common among older adults.

    There are many products and devices, such as magnifiers, that can help people with low vision. In addition, some eye doctors specialize in rehabilitation for low vision, so ask your eye doctor for recommendations.
  • Dark or Empty Area in the Central Area of Vision

    Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes damage to the macula, a part of the retina that gives us the sharp central vision we need to perform activities that require high-definition, straight-ahead vision. So, what you see up close or at a distance may be blurry or hazy. Brighter light may be needed when reading or it may be difficult to adapt from bright light to low light. As the disease advances, there may be dark or blank spots in vision or faces may become blurry.

    There are eye vitamins, like PreserVision® AREDS 2 Formula Eye Vitaminslink-out icon, that help reduce the risk of progression in people with moderate-to-advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD).*

    *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

  • Ocular Allergies
    Eye allergies, also known as allergic conjunctivitis, are common. If you suffer from red, watery, itchy eyes, ask your doctor about DoctoRX's Allergy Formula Ocular Allergy Diagnostic System (OADS)—an FDA-approved in-office test that enables eye doctors to test for allergies that may be the underlying cause of your eye allergies or irritations.

Diabetes + Your Eyes

If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to have your eyes examined every year to check for a condition called diabetic retinopathy.

High blood sugar and high blood pressure can damage the tiny blood vessels that lead to your retina. This painless condition often has no symptoms until it’s serious. But regular visits to your eye doctor may detect it in its early stages. Diabetic retinopathy can be controlled and treated, and its progress slowed significantly if detected before you experience vision loss.