Regular eye examinations by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) are the best way to detect eye conditions early, while they can be treated. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) with special training and skills to diagnose and treat all diseases and disorders of the eye. The following are eye problems commonly experienced by older people.
Before age 40, the eye’s lens is soft, flexible and can easily change shape. This makes it easy to focus on objects both close-up and far away. Around age 40, the lens becomes more rigid and does not change shape easily. This makes it harder to read, thread a needle, or do other close-up tasks. This is called presbyopia. We cannot prevent or cure presbyopia, but reading glasses or bifocals help you see.
Inside our eyes, we have a natural lens. The lens bends (refracts) light rays that come into the eye to help us see. The lens should be clear. But if you have a cataract, your lens has become cloudy. It is like looking through a foggy or dusty window. Things look blurry, hazy or less colorful with a cataract.
What causes a cataract? Aging is the most common cause of cataracts. This is due to normal eye changes that happen around age 40. That is when normal proteins in the lens start to break down. This is what causes the lens to get cloudy. People over age 60 usually start to have some clouding of their lenses. However, vision problems may not happen til years later. Most age-related cataracts develop gradually. Other cataracts can develop more quickly, such as people with diabetes. Doctors cannot predict how quickly a person’s cataract will develop.
Common Cataract Symptoms:
- A painless blurring of vision
- Glare or light sensitivity
- Poor night vision
- Needing brighter light to read
- Fading or yellowing of colors
It is up to you to decide when to have a cataract removed. When you are unable to see well enough to do the things you like or need to do, you should consider cataract surgery.
In cataract surgery, the cloudy lens is removed through a small surgical incision. IN most cases, the focusing power of the natural lens is restored by replacing it with a permanent intraocular lens (IOL) implant.
Cataract surgery improves vision in most cases. Cataract surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis so you can go home the same day.
Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve- the part of the eye that carries the images we see to the brain. The optic nerve is made up of many nerve fibers, like an electric cable containing numerous wires. When damage to the optic nerve fibers occurs, blind spots develop. These blind spots usually go undetected until the optic nerve is significantly damaged. If the entire nerve is destroyed, blindness results.
Early detection and treatment by your Ophthalmologist are the keys to preventing optic nerve damage and blindness from glaucoma. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the United States, especially for older people. But loss of sight from glaucoma can often be prevented with early treatment.
Regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist are the best way to detect glaucoma. A glaucoma screening that checks only the pressure of the eye is not sufficient to determine if you have glaucoma. The only sure way to detect glaucoma is to have a complete dilated eye examination.
Macular degeneration is damage or breakdown of the macula of the eye. The macula is the small, central area of the retina that allows us to see fine details clearly. Macular degeneration is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Vision loss is usually gradual.
In some cases, abnormal blood vessels develop and leak fluid or blood under the macula. Vision loss in this case may be rapid.
If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, have your eyes examined promptly:
- Words on a page look blurred in the center
- Straight lines look distorted, especially toward the center of your vision.
- A dark or empty area appears in the center of vision
- Colors look dim
There is no proven cure for macular degeneration. In some people who have leaking blood vessels, laser surgery may slow or prevent additional vision loss.
DIABETIC EYE PROBLEMS
Diabetes can cause changes in the veins and arteries that carry blood throughout your body. This disease can affect your vision by causing cataracts, glaucoma, and, most important, damage to blood vessels inside the eye.
When blood vessels in the retina are damaged, they may leak fluid or blood and grow fragile, brush-like branches and scar tissue. This condition, called diabetic retinopathy, can blur or distort the images that the retina sends to the brain.
You can have serious, sight-threatening retinopathy without any symptoms. The best protection against loss of vision from diabetic retinopathy is to have regular eye examinations by your ophthalmologist. People with diabetes should have eye examinations at least once a year, or as recommended by your ophthalmologist.
As diabetic retinopathy gets worse, you will notice symptoms such as:
Seeing an increasing number of floaters
Having blurry vision
Having vision that changes sometimes from blurry to clear
Seeing blank or dark areas in your field of vision
Having poor night vision
Noticing colors appear faded or washed out
Diabetic retinopathy symptoms usually affect both eyes.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids. The membrane covering the inside of the eyelid and the white of the eye may also become inflamed. Blepharitis can be caused by bacteria (germs) on the eyelids or on the skin around the eyes. Dandruff or oily skin can also cause blepharitis. Wearing contact lenses or makeup can make the symptoms worse. Blepharitis can’t always be cured. But it can be controlled.
Some people do not produce enough tears or the appropriate quality of tears to keep the eye healthy and comfortable. This is known as dry eye.
What are the symptoms of dry eye?
The usual symptoms include
- Stinging or burning eyes
- Stringy mucus in or around the eyes
- Excessive eye irritation from smoke or wind
- Excess tearing
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses
Excess tearing from “dry eye” sounds illogical, but if the tears responsible for maintenance lubrication do not keep the eyes wet enough, the eye becomes irritated. When the eye is irritated, the lacrimal gland produces a large volume of tears that overwhelm the tear drainage system. These excess tears then overflow from your eye.
Despite its fame as a cosmetic treatment, BOTOX can be used to treat medical conditions as well. Two eye conditions approved for this type of treatment include blepharospasm (eyelid spasms), and strabismus (crossed eyes)
Blepharospasm causes spasms in and around the eyelids, resulting in frequent and uncontrollable blinking and closing of the eyes. Treatment with BOTOX® can reduce these muscle spasms, which reduces blinking, which may help restore the ability to see.
Crossed eyes happen when certain muscles tighten around the eye, which can pull the eyeball to the side. BOTOX® treatment can relax the affected muscles allowing the eyeball to return to its normal position.