Shortly after my 59th birthday, I noticed an increase of floaters in my eyes, followed by a series of flashing lights. I immediately sought medical attention and discovered that there were two tiny tears in the retina of my right eye.
Thankfully, my ophthalmologist caught the problem early and performed laser surgery to correct the condition. When I asked him what caused the retinal tears, I was surprised to learn that it was a common, age-related condition.
Aging and eye issues
After we turn 60, a number of problems may develop that can change our vision. It’s especially crucial at this age to remain proactive about eye health by scheduling regular exams to avoid permanent loss of sight.
Some of these common age-related eye problems include the following:
The tiny specs or dots that appear in your line of vision are called floaters. They are harmless and common, but if you notice a sudden change in the amount, size, or shape of the floaters, it may be an indication of something more serious, such as bleeding in the eye or retinal tears.
A visit to your ophthalmologist is recommended to check the condition of your retina to prevent further retinal tears or possible detachment.
2. Posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and retinal tears
PVD occurs when the vitreous (the clear, gel-like fluid that fills the inside of the eye) pulls away from the back wall of the eye. The condition is common in people over the age of 60 and does not cause pain or loss of vision. The symptoms often disappear after three months.
But if the PVD is accompanied by an increase of floaters or flashes of light and light streaks, it’s possible that your retina (the layer of tissue containing light-sensitive cells in the back of the eye) may have been compromised. This happens when the vitreous tugs on the retinal nerve layer hard enough to cause small tears in the tissue. It’s critical that you see your ophthalmologist immediately and have a dilated eye exam for a closer look at the retina.
3. Retinal detachment
This eye disorder occurs when the retina separates from the pigmented cell layer underneath. It often starts with the same symptoms of PVD and retinal tears — the sudden appearance of multiple floaters and flashes of light — but will progress to blurred vision, reduced peripheral vision, or a dark, curtain-like shadow over the eye. This is considered a medical emergency that needs immediate attention to prevent permanent blindness.
4. Dry eyes/teary eyes
If your tear glands are unable to produce enough tears, your eyes may feel like they’re overly dry, itchy or burning. Although it can become a chronic problem in older adults, an eye doctor can help relieve the symptoms by recommending eye drops to stimulate real tears.
If your eyes are producing too many tears and are overly sensitive to light, wind, or temperature changes, it may be a result of an eye infection or a blocked tear duct, which can also be corrected by an eye doctor.
This group of eye diseases can affect both eyes, usually one right after the other. Glaucoma is caused by damage to the optic nerve, resulting in the loss of your peripheral vision.
The incidence of glaucoma is higher in older adults, African Americans and people who have a family history of eye disease. It is a serious condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated.
Cataracts are an opaque-type clouding in the lens of the eye that develops slowly over time and usually affects both eyes. Symptoms include blurry vision, sensitivity to glare, faded colors, halos around lights and decreased vision at night.
Cataracts are commonly due to aging and are diagnosed by an eye exam. They may require surgical removal of the cloudy lens (which is replaced with a clear lens).
7. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
When the part of the retina known as the macula is damaged, it can progress to changes in your central vision and impairment in your ability to see colors or fine details. This is known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
There are two types of AMD: Dry and wet. Dry macular degeneration develops slowly and affects your ability to read, drive, or recognize faces. It does not affect your peripheral vision and rarely causes complete blindness. There are no FDA-approved treatments for dry macular degeneration, but nutritional intervention is often recommended to prevent the condition from becoming more serious.
Wet macular degeneration is far more severe, caused by abnormal blood vessel growth beneath the retina. The leaking blood and liquid can lead to blind spots, scarring and central vision loss. Early signs of this type of AMD can be detected through a retinal exam and treated with certain FDA-approved medications.
8. Diabetic retinopathy
Commonly known as an eye problem due to Type I or Type II diabetes, diabetic retinopathy stems from damage to the blood vessels that line the retina.
If you have high blood sugar, blockages may occur that prevent the retina from getting enough blood. There are often no symptoms until the disease becomes more pronounced. Symptoms include floaters, blurriness, difficulty seeing color pigments, dark areas appearing in the central line of vision, and partial to a full loss of eyesight if not treated.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, see your eye doctor as soon as possible. Early detection and self-care are the keys to maintaining healthy eyesight.