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5 Age-Related Eye Problems In Your 50s and Beyond



March 24, 2020
Getting older can bring a lot of positives to your life: wisdom, knowledge and confidence, to name a few. Unfortunately, age can also bring changes to your vision and eyes. Age-related eye issues affect millions of Americans every year, but Katherine Duncan, M.D., an ophthalmologist with the Eye Center at GBMC, says early detection can help protect your vision and prevent vision loss. She describes five age-related eye issues to be aware of as you enter your 50s and beyond.

1. Dry eye

Dry eye is a condition that happens when the oil-producing glands in your eyelid lose their functionality. This can cause the eye to not produce enough tears, which are needed to lubricate and protect the eye from infection. Dry eye can occur in younger individuals, but it's a common and often chronic problem in older adults. Symptoms include redness of the eye and a burning or gritty sensation.

"Dry eye is a chronic condition that does require a regimen in order to prevent symptoms from flaring," Dr. Duncan explains. "There's no magic cure, but there are things you can do to prevent it from getting worse and keep your eyes comfortable."

She says over-the-counter artificial tears and applying warm compresses to the eye a few times a day can help with dryness.

2. Droopy eyelids

There are two conditions that can cause the skin of the upper eyelid to droop. One is dermatochalasis, which refers to excess upper eyelid skin that often comes with aging. Another is ptosis, which is a droopy eyelid caused by muscle weakness. Both conditions cause the upper eyelid skin to sag in a way that can impair peripheral vision. Treatment for both involves surgery but according to Dr. Duncan, the procedures are very common and straightforward.

"Blepharoplasty is the procedure to remove the excess skin caused by dermatochalasis, while ptosis repair actually tightens the stretched eyelid muscle," she explains. "Both are relatively easy procedures, and blepharoplasty can be done in the operating room or in the office with just local anesthetic."

3. Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy, caused by changes that occur in the eye over time with diabetes, is the No. 1 cause of blindness in working-age adults in the U.S. The good news is that regular eye exams can catch the early signs of diabetic retinopathy.

"For anyone with diabetes, it's really important they come to the eye doctor once a year to get their eyes dilated. Often the earliest signs of diabetic retinopathy don't have symptoms associated with them, but we can catch it during eye exams," Dr. Duncan says.

Some of the symptoms to look out for are blurring of central vision, floaters or cobwebs in your vision. Treatment can include controlling your blood sugar (in early stages), laser therapy, medication and surgery. Dr. Duncan reiterates that, for most people, diabetic retinopathy does not mean they will go blind, especially if they stay up to date with their eye exams and keep their diabetes under control.

4. Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration happens when the small central portion of your retina (the light-sensing nerve tissue at the back of your eye) wears down.

"Most patients will notice a distortion or degradation of their central vision. They may be unable to see details of faces, or the straight edges of doors or windows may look wavy or irregular," Dr. Duncan says.

Unfortunately, macular degeneration doesn't have a cure. There are treatments available to slow down the loss of vision, including medication injected into the eye, laser therapy and low-vision aids.

5. Cataracts

Recognizable by a clouding of the eye, cataracts are a common condition in older adults, caused by a buildup of protein in the lens of the eye. The buildup prevents light from passing through clearly and can eventually cause loss of eyesight. Common symptoms include cloudy or blurry vision, changes in the way you see color, or problems with glare. Cataract surgery is really the only option for treatment.

"Cataract surgery is the one of the most common procedures done in the United States. It's a very easy, quick procedure, where the cataract is replaced with a lens implant to help the patient see much clearer," Dr. Duncan explains.

She adds the surgery generally takes 30 minutes or less, and patients usually see better within 24 hours.

Dr. Duncan stresses the importance of seeing an eye doctor annually, especially as you get older. She says the sooner you can catch any of these issues, the better your chance for maintaining your eyesight.

"If you have any reduced vision, new floaters or cobwebs in your vision, or loss or change in your peripheral vision, you should see someone right away."
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