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Harvard Health Blog
Want healthy eyes? What to know at 40 and beyond
- By Kelly Bilodeau, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
Did the print on that label suddenly shrink? If you’re in your 40s or beyond, you may have asked yourself that question as you struggled to read something that you used to be able to see clearly with no problem.
Blame your aging eyes. Much like our joints, our eyes undergo age-related changes. While eye problems can affect people of any age, some conditions become more common after age 40.
Getting older? Three common eye conditions
Presbyopia. The lens of the eye gets stiffer with age, which makes it harder to focus on objects nearby — hence your label-reading struggles. Many people find satisfaction with inexpensive reading glasses, but once you need them, it’s time for a midlife vision check-up.
Cataracts. Another common condition that can crop up as you age is cataracts, a clouding of the lens of your eye that can impair vision. Cataracts affect about half of people ages 65 to 74. Treatment typically involves an outpatient surgical procedure to replaces the clouded lens.
Dry eye syndrome. This condition affects more than 15 million adults in the United States, and occurs due to a reduction in tear production. With less natural lubrication your eyes can become irritated, sticky, or you may feel a burning or scratchy sensation in the eye. Depending on severity, symptoms can be treated using eye drops that simulate your natural tears, a topical prescription drug, or a device to increase tear production.
Additional eye conditions that may occur with age or illness
Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD). Signs of this condition include visual disruptions, such as seeing light streaks, floaters, or a cobweb-like haze. These occur because the jelly-like substance called vitreous in the eye starts to liquefy and shrink, causing it tug on the retina.
Call your medical team right away if you notice these signs. While most people experiencing PVD won’t need treatment, in some cases the vitreous can completely detach from or tear the retina. A tear or detachment can cause vision loss, and requires a laser procedure or surgery to repair the problem, according to the American Society of Retina Specialists.
Glaucoma. Another condition that becomes more common after age 40 is glaucoma. This painless, often symptomless condition damages the optic nerve that transmits information from your eyes to your brain. When not treated, glaucoma can lead to peripheral or central vision loss. Most often, glaucoma is treated with prescription eye drops designed to reduce the pressure in your eye. Less commonly, your doctor may recommend a laser procedure or surgery.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This condition causes degeneration of the retina, a thin layer of tissue at the back of the eye. Light-sensitive cells of the retina capture images and transmit them to the brain through the optic nerve. AMD affects a central part of the retina called the macula. It can lead to blurred or distorted vision, and possibly a blind spot in a person’s field of vision. Treatment, which may include medication or laser therapy, can often help prevent or at least delay vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy. This condition also causes damage to the retina. For people with diabetes, keeping blood sugar and blood pressure under control helps prevent diabetic retinopathy. If it is detected, your eye specialist will recommend treatment, usually eye injections or laser therapy.
Easy ways to maintain eye health
Many eye conditions can be effectively treated to protect your vision if they are caught early. That’s why it’s wise to get regular eye exams, to spot potential problems and address them before they affect your eyesight.
You can also take other steps to ensure that your eyes stay healthy, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and protecting your eyes from ultraviolet rays by wearing sunglasses outside.
About the Author
Kelly Bilodeau, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
You might also be interested in…
The Aging Eye: Preventing and treating eye disease
As the eyes age, problems with vision become more common. The Aging Eye: Preventing and treating eye disease explains how to recognize the risk factors and symptoms of specific eye diseases — cataract, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy — and what steps you can take to prevent or treat them before your vision deteriorates.
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