Cataracts and other age-related vision problems…

Content by Mayo Foundation For Education & Research/SHW Research

As you age, so do your eyes. You might find that you have difficulty reading small print or that you need brighter lighting at your desk. Eye conditions that could lead to more serious vision problems also become more common with age.

Consider cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. Most cataracts develop slowly and don’t disturb eyesight early on. At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help you deal with cataracts. Eventually, cataracts can cause blurry vision and interfere with daily activities, such as night driving and distinguishing colors. However, even with advanced cataracts, vision can usually be restored with surgery

Vision with cataracts

If you have cataracts, you might notice:

  • Cloudy, blurred, or dim vision
  • Increased difficulty with vision at night
  • Light halos around objects
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Double vision in a single eye

If you notice any signs and symptoms of cataracts, talk to your eye doctor. Although the early symptoms of cataracts can often be managed with eyeglasses, the only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery.

Glaucoma

A glaucoma is a group of conditions that damage the optic nerve, which is vital to good vision. The damage is often caused by abnormally high pressure in your eye. This pressure can damage the millions of nerve fibers that carry visual information from your eye via the optic nerve to your brain. The optic disk is the point where the fibers from the retina meet before entering the optic nerve. As your optic nerve deteriorates, blind spots develop in your vision. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to irreversible blindness.

Vision with glaucoma

The most common type of glaucoma — open-angle glaucoma — causes progressive loss of peripheral vision followed by loss of central vision. Angle-closure glaucoma, which is less common but considered a medical emergency, causes severe eye pain and redness.

To detect glaucoma early, see your eye doctor for regular eye exams. Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe eye pain or other signs and symptoms of glaucoma. Treatment options might include medication, laser therapy, or surgery.

Macular degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when tissue in the macula — the part of your retina that’s responsible for central vision — deteriorates. This causes a blind spot to form in your central vision.

Dry macular degeneration is more common. It is caused by the slow deterioration of the retinal tissues. Wet macular degeneration, which occurs when abnormal blood vessels leak fluid or blood into the macula, is more likely to cause a relatively sudden change in vision. To check for dry macular degeneration, your doctor will examine the back of your eye for drusen — yellow deposits that form under the retina. In the early stages, the drusen appear small (left). As the condition progresses to the advanced stage (right), large drusen develop, and the light-sensitive cells that make up the macula break down.

Vision with macular degeneration

Depending on the type, age-related macular degeneration might cause:

  • Visual distortions, such as straight lines seeming bent
  • A general haziness in your overall vision
  • A well-defined blurry spot or a blind spot in your vision

If you notice changes in your central vision or other signs and symptoms of age-related macular degeneration, see your eye doctor. There’s no treatment to reverse dry macular degeneration, but a healthy diet and nutritional supplements might slow the progression of the condition. Treatment options for wet macular degeneration might include medication or laser therapy. Low-vision rehabilitation therapy may be helpful for both types of macular degeneration.

Eye floaters

Your eyeball is filled with a jelly-like substance called the vitreous humor. As you age, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together (see arrows). These clumps can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you might see as spots (floaters) in your vision.

Vision with eye floaters

Eye floaters look like black or gray specks, strings, or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes and appear to dart away when you try to look at them directly.

Most eye floaters are harmless and don’t require treatment. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters — especially if they’re accompanied by flashes of light or peripheral vision loss — seek immediate medical attention. This might signal a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

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