Eyes and aging: What you can do for your eye health


In this article:

  • Two of the most common eye conditions that can happen with age are cataracts and glaucoma.

  • January is National Glaucoma Awareness month, so we’re breaking down what you need to know about this eye condition and how it relates to cataracts.

  • The best way to monitor for cataracts and glaucoma is with a routine eye exam.

Aging can cause many changes to your eyes – some more noticeable than others. You probably have to wear reading glasses to see up close. Your eyes might feel drier or more sensitive to light. Or maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a new eye condition. Two of the most common eye conditions that come with age are cataracts and glaucoma.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. So, we’re breaking down this eye condition: What is it? How does it relate to cataracts? How do you know you have it?

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is one of the most common eye conditions people can get as they age. More than 3 million people in the U.S. have some type of glaucoma. This condition happens because of increased pressure in the eye. Extra eye pressure damages the optic nerve – the part of your eye that connects it to the brain. If glaucoma isn’t treated, it can cause permanent blindness. 

Is glaucoma related to cataracts?

Cataracts are a separate eye condition from glaucoma but also tend to develop as people age. Changes in the eye’s lens can cause cataracts to form in one or both eyes. Over time, proteins in the eye start to break down and clump together, which makes a cloudy spot in your vision. Unlike glaucoma, cataracts form slowly and are reversible. More than 50% of Americans 80 or older either have cataracts or have had cataract surgery.

Glaucoma and cataracts usually aren’t related, though both develop and get worse with age. Sometimes, they happen at the same time. And both cause vision loss. In some cases, glaucoma surgery can speed up cataracts forming, but not always.

With glaucoma, the earlier your eye doctor can catch it, the more likely it is that treatment can stop it from getting worse. There are several treatments for glaucoma: How do you treat glaucoma and cataracts?

  • Eye drops: Regular drops that lower the pressure in the eye. This type of treatment can be challenging for people who don’t want to keep up with drops regularly.
  • Laser trabeculoplasty: In-clinic laser treatment that drains fluid from the eye to lower eye pressure.
  • Implants: Dissolvable implants that release medication into the eye, ensuring a constant dose over several months. There’s also a glaucoma implant, which is a small tube that drains extra eye fluid.
  • Minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIGS): Newer surgeries that take 15 to 20 minutes and create fewer complications with faster recovery.

Certain glaucoma treatments may work better in some people than in others. Currently available treatments don’t reverse any damage, but they help stop your vision from getting worse.

Cataract surgery

Cataracts can be a side effect of glaucoma treatment. To treat cataracts, people almost always get surgery. For early cataracts, you may be able to help your vision by wearing anti-glare sunglasses, using brighter lights, or getting new glasses or contacts. Once cataracts start getting in the way of your daily life, you’ll want to schedule cataract surgery – a very common operation.

During cataract surgery, the specialist replaces the cloudy lens in your eye with a new lens. The new lens can also improve your regular vision at a distance. A newer type of lens that we use at Providence called the Symfony lens also improves your close-up vision too. After cataract surgery, you can usually return to your normal routine within 24 hours. And you’ll likely have better vision.

Is there a way to prevent these eye problems?

The best way to monitor for glaucoma and cataracts is to have a regular eye exam. The National Eye Institute advises that most people need a full eye exam with dilation every one to two years. Dilation lets more light into your eye, so your doctor can see if there are any problems or warnings of a serious eye condition.

With glaucoma, you likely won’t notice signs and symptoms until you start having vision problems. You can lose over 40% of your vision without noticing. And the vision loss can’t be reversed. Having a routine eye exam is the best way to prevent vision loss. At Providence, we have trained eye specialists and ophthalmology services that can help.

Certain risk factors can make you more likely to get glaucoma:

  • African American over age 40
  • Over age 60
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • Diabetes
  • Long-term steroid use

If you have these risk factors, your routine eye exam is especially important. Your eye doctor or ophthalmologist can also see if cataracts are starting to form. These usually don’t cause permanent vision loss and happen more slowly than glaucoma.

Other ways to prevent these eye conditions include:

  • Protecting your eyes with sunglasses or a hat in the sun
  • Eating healthy, especially dark, leafy greens
  • Not smoking or quitting if you do
  • Getting regular, dilated eye exams

Schedule your eye exam

Not sure if you need an eye exam? You probably do! An eye exam is an important part of your overall health. If you’ve put off your annual eye exam due to the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t delay another year. Our Providence teams of eye specialists can look at your eyes and discuss strategies for keeping your sight intact, all while keeping you safe from the spread of COVID-19.  

Start the year off right by making sure your eyes are healthy. The risk of eye conditions, such as glaucoma and cataracts, increases with age. So, make sure you know how to protect yourself from vision loss.


Find a doctor

At Providence, our team of eye specialists and ophthalmologists are here to keep your eyes healthy and your vision strong. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory. Through Providence Express Care Virtual, you can also access a full range of healthcare services.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

From how to identify and treat heart diseases to exercise tips to maintain an active lifestyle, the Providence Senior's Health team is committed to providing real-world advice that is hyper-relevant to helping those 65+ find ways stay young at heart

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