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Warning Signs of Age-Related Eye Conditions

One in six Americans over the age of 65 has a visual impairment that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Though the majority of these vision-impairing eye conditions are age-related, in most cases there are a number of proactive steps that can be taken to either avoid them altogether, or prevent them from progressing to the point of severe visual impairment or blindness. 

While having your vision checked annually by an ophthalmologist is the best way to detect any eye conditions, there are a number of key warning signs of age-related eye problems that reveal themselves outside of the doctor’s office.

Eye Symptoms & What They Might Indicate

Floaters and spots

These are spots that appear on your field of visionSmall black dots that appear to follow your field of vision are known as spots or floaters. When these spots develop as a result of old age, they’re usually caused by a benign condition known as vitreous detachment. This condition is characterized by a thinning of the fluid in the eye, which then separates from the retina in thin strands that float through your vision and appear as spots.

While it’s relatively common for seniors to see some flashes and floaters, if you’re experiencing an increased amount of these spots, and at a higher frequency – perhaps seeing a flurry of flashes and floaters – this is likely a sign of an impending retinal detachment. You should always seek emergency medical attention right away in such circumstances, as surgical reattachment is likely needed to repair the tear in the retina.

“Dark curtain”

The name of this warning sign may sound exceedingly ominous, but the scary moniker is actually well-deserved. Like spots or floaters in your vision, the sensation of a “dark curtain” closing over your field of vision is likely an indicator of retinal detachment. Time is of the essence with this very serious condition, as permanent vision loss could result if the retina is not reattached before it loses its supply of oxygen and blood; a vitreo-retinal surgeon is needed to conduct this procedure. Even if the dark curtain sensation is fleeting, and vanishes after a few seconds or minutes, it’s crucial that you still contact your eye doctor right away, because this temporary sensation could indicate a mini-stroke.

Blurry vision

Blurry or cloudy vision could indicate a plethora of different eye issues, which is why it’s best to understand this symptom according to the different ways it presents, along with any other factors that may be relevant.

  • Blurry vision in seniors: As you age, your eyes will naturally experience some wear and tear. Seniors who have eyes that are tired or overworked may notice an increased amount of blurriness in their vision, which could simply be a symptom of an age-related decline in eyesight. Such changes in vision, no matter how negligible or natural they appear, should always be reported to your eye doctor, as they could just as easily indicate an age-related eye disease, such as AMD. Receiving early treatment is of course critical when dealing with an eye disease.
  • Blurry vision in one eye: When the cloudy vision is concentrated in one eye, it could be a sign that a macular hole is developing. This condition affects one’s fine vision focusing, gradually worsens over time, and could easily result in permanent vision loss if left untreated.
  • Blurry vision in diabetics: Many people are unaware that diabetes is actually the leading cause of blindness in adults. Diabetics need to be particularly vigilant of any changes in their vision, which should be reported to their eye doctor. When it comes to preventing eye problems in diabetics, maintaining proper blood sugar control is of the utmost importance.
  • Blurry vision with spots or floaters: This could be a sign of early onset diabetic retinopathy.

Double Vision

Like cloudy vision, double vision is a symptom with an assortment of potential causes, many of which aren’t even directly eye-related. For instance, seeing double or “ghost” images can be an indicator of a stroke or a serious concussion, or changes in the nerves or muscles. See your doctor right away to determine what’s causing this troubling issue, and what course of action should be taken.

Loss of central vision

Are you having a harder time seeing things right in front of you? If these close-up objects appear distorted – such as straight lines appearing wavy – AMD may very well be at the root of your vision problem. As one of the most common causes of adult onset blindness, AMD is a progressive condition that cannot be cured completely – if caught early enough, however, its progression can be slowed or stopped, thereby halting the degeneration before permanent vision loss occurs.

Narrow vision

In contrast to the loss of central vision, the narrowing of your visual field means that the only objects you can see clearly are the ones right in front of you. This decline in peripheral vision is often caused by glaucoma, which can severely damage the optic nerve if left untreated, perhaps leading to blindness. What makes things worse is that such cases of glaucoma can easily go unnoticed for quite some time, even until a person’s field of vision is exceedingly narrow; this is why it’s crucial to notify a doctor at the slightest hint of weakening peripheral vision.

Surface irritation

If your eyes have been feeling itchy or burning of late, or if you’ve been tearing up every now and again, you might be suffering from dry eye syndrome. This condition, which is more annoying than it is visually impairing, can be treated with prescription eye drops purchased over-the-counter.

Preventative Eye Care: Recognizing Symptoms & Consulting With a Professional

It’s crucial to look out for any of the symptoms detailed above, as the list of different diseases and conditions they can potentially be linked to is surprisingly long, and very serious health-wise.

Therefore, an itchy eye or a slight decline in peripheral vision may not seem like big threats to your health, but cancer of the eye and glaucoma certainly are – and only by consulting an eye professional can you know for sure what you’re dealing with.

Of course, seniors need to be especially diligent about checking their vision and scheduling eye appointments, considering the increased risk they have of developing an eye disease in their 60s or 70s.  In between eye doctor visits, however, seniors should remain extra vigilant of any changes in their vision, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.

In this way, knowing what warning signs to look out for is a great way to contribute to one’s long-term preventative eye care.