Most Common Age-Related Eye Diseases
Whether they are early morning aches and joint pain or sagging, wrinkling skin, sooner or later, we all have to face the common effects of aging. At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we understand that aging can have a variety of adverse effects on the eyesight as well. Fortunately, when you know some of the things that you need to look out for, and some of the things that you need to expect, it can go a long way towards relieving your anxieties. Here are four of the most common conditions that adversely affect the eyesight of patients as they get older, along with advice from Dr. William Segal and Dr. Marc Lay on the best ways to avoid or treat them.
Chronic Dry Eye
The eyes are usually kept clean and well-lubricated by a thin coating of tears, which are continuously renewed by the tear ducts. However, over the course of several years, irritating environmental factors like smoke, pollution, and ultraviolent light can slowly damage the eye lids and tear ducts, reducing tear production. This chronic dry eye can be extremely uncomfortable and, if left untreated, may also lead to more serious conditions like eye infections or corneal ulcers. Treatment for dry eyes typically involves either non-prescription artificial tears or prescription anti-inflammatory medication. Some patients find relief by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids. Severe cases can be treated with punctual tear plugs, which restrict the amount of fluid that drains from the eye and conserve natural tears.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
If you have ever had chicken-pox as a child, the varicella-zoster virus remains in your body, deep inside the nerves. Your immune system generally keeps the virus dormant, but as we grow older those natural defenses become less effective. In some older individuals, the virus may reactivate and spread up the nerves and to the skin, where it ultimately manifests as shingles: a red, blistering rash, accompanied by deep, penetrating pain. Shingles can potentially manifest anywhere, but if the forehead, temple, or face becomes infected, the cornea and optic nerves may become infected as well. This may lead to corneal scarring and permanent vision loss. If shingles is treated with antiviral drugs within the first three days, the duration of the rash and the risk of permanent eye damage from shingles can be reduced.
Presbyopia of the Aging Eye
The eyes are able to continuously shift their focus between near and far objects through the use of several tiny muscles that bend and flex the eyes’ lenses. Unfortunately, like all muscles in the body, these muscles tend to become weaker and less flexible as we grow older. Eventually, the lenses in the eyes are no longer able to bend as far enough to bring nearby objects into focus. This condition is called presbyopia (which literally means “old eye” in Greek) and it is the reason that most people start to experience difficulty seeing objects at close range about the time that they reach the age of forty. Presbyopia can potentially be reversed by surgically replacing the lens of the eye with an advanced intraocular lens, but it is more commonly treated with prescription reading glasses, bifocals, progressive lenses, or advanced multifocal contact lenses.
Age-Related macular Degeneration
A condition that most commonly affects men and women over the age of sixty, age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, occurs when small, yellow deposits, called drusen, form on the macula at the back of the eye, preventing light from reaching the center of the retina and obscuring vision. At first, this manifests as a slight distortion in the center of the visional field, but can gradually grow worse until it becomes an empty area or blind spot. Unfortunately there is currently no cure for macular degeneration, but its progression may be slowed in some patients with a combination of exercise and a healthy diet high in green, leafy vegetables and fish.
Additionally, studies have found that older patients are generally at an increased risk for the three leading causes of vision loss: glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. This is why the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that all men and women undergo a comprehensive medical eye exam at least once between the ages of 20 and 29, at least twice between the ages of 30 and 39, and annually thereafter. They also advise that all patients should get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40, the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to occur. If you have questions about the health of your eyes, or would like to schedule an eye exam, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons to make an appointment. Finally, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more information on how to keep your vision clear.