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Your eyes and vision can (and probably will) change as you age.
Regular eye exams can help your ophthalmologist identify warning signs of age-related eye conditions and disorders.
Common eye changes include deteriorating vision, dry eyes, glaucoma and even macular degeneration.
Chances are you understand the importance of regular wellness exams with your primary care provider and even twice-yearly teeth cleanings with your dentist. But when was the last time you visited the eye doctor? If you’re taking a minute to think back, you’re not alone.
Busy calendars, lengthy to-do lists and the pandemic are all reasons your eye appointment may have dropped to the bottom of your list. And with the resurgence of COVID in our communities, you may be reprioritizing venturing out. However, the Providence team of eye specialists encourages you to make time to check in on your vision and eye health before it goes too long.
A regular eye exam does much more than check your vision. It gives your ophthalmologist the opportunity to evaluate your overall eye health and address any warning signs that could spell trouble down the road.
Common signs of vision changes
It’s a fact of life: As we age, our bodies change. That’s just as true for our eyes as it is for our joints. And, you don’t even have to be “old” to notice changes to your vision. It can happen at any time – whether or not you’ve worn glasses or contacts.
- Blurry vision – The number one sign your vision is changing is, quite simply, difficulty seeing. Maybe you’ve noticed it’s hard to make out road signs in the distance or you’re leaning a little closer to your computer screen. If you find you can’t quite see like you used to, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor as soon as possible.
- Double vision – It can be alarming to suddenly see two of everything, but while it calls for an eye appointment, it can be caused by many different things. That list includes extreme fatigue, putting pressure on your eyes, having the wrong glasses prescription to more serious conditions like a detached retina.
- Floaters and flashers – Ever notice little specks or spots that float through your field of vision? Occasional floaters and flashers aren’t typically a cause for alarm but, with other symptoms like light flashes, may be a sign of something more serious such as a detached retina, dehydration or high blood pressure.
- Headaches – A headache can be caused by stress, dehydration, and yes, eye changes. Whether you’re staring at a computer screen all day and need to add blue light glasses to your office supplies or your vision changes and you need a new prescription, talk to your eye doctor if you’re experiencing persistent headaches.
Age-related vision changes
Not everyone will experience changes to their vision as they age, but many will. (After all, there’s a reason those “reader” glasses are everywhere!) The most common changes to your vision and eyes that come with age include:
- Cataracts – Cataracts can affect one eye or both. They form slowly and can cause blurry vision or make colors look dull. Sometimes, there are no signs of cataracts until you notice changes to your vision. Surgery can remove cataracts and improve your vision.
- Dry eyes – Dry eyes can happen at any age or occur seasonally with allergies. However, you may be more likely to experience dry eyes as you get older because tear production diminishes with age.
- Glaucoma – One of the most common eye conditions as you age is glaucoma, which is increased pressure in the eye. Untreated, it can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.
- Presbyopia – This is the technical term that refers to the loss of ability to see close objects or small print. When you find yourself squinting at the computer screen, magnifying the font size on your phone or holding menus at arms’ length, it may be time to buy those reading glasses mentioned above.
- Retinal disorders – These types of conditions include serious diseases like macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or retinal detachment. Regular eye exams can help identify if you are at risk for these disorders and, if necessary, find ways to reduce that risk to protect your vision.
- Tearing – Watery eyes can be caused by light sensitivity, a windy day or even temperature changes. However, teary eyes may also be a sign of a blocked tear duct or eye infection.
Vision issues related to health conditions
Aging isn’t the only thing that can cause changes to your vision. Certain medical conditions can also bring on permanent or temporary vision changes. Those can include:
- Diabetes – Cataracts, glaucoma, blurry vision and diabetic retinopathy (damage to the blood vessels in the back of your eye) can be caused by high blood sugar.
- High blood pressure – Hypertension (high blood pressure) can cause hypertensive retinopathy, which refers to damage to the blood vessels in the eye and that sometimes leads to permanent (and serious) vision problems.
- Migraines – Severe headaches, including migraines, can cause temporary changes to your vision. You may experience a sensitivity to light, blurry vision or even flashing or shimmering lights. Typically, these symptoms go away with the migraine.
- Autoimmune disorders – Certain autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and diabetes can cause eye pain, light sensitivity, vision changes and vision loss.
Other health conditions that can cause vision changes include:
- Sickle cell disease
- Nutritional deficiencies (vitamins C or E, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc)
- Liver disease
- Infectious diseases (pink eye, shingles, measles)
When to schedule your eye exam
According to the National Eye Institute, most people need a comprehensive eye exam, with dilation, every one to two years. Dilation allows your ophthalmologist to look into the inner workings of your eyes and identify any problems or warning signs that you may be at risk of developing a serious eye condition or disorder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), along with the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, recommend the following eye exam schedule for all Americans:
- Children between ages 3 and 5 have a vision screening at least once to check for amblyopia (lazy eye) or its risk factors. (Pediatricians and schools may also recommend vision screenings before children enter kindergarten and then on a regular basis every one to two years.)
- Individuals with diabetes should have an eye exam with dilation every year
Additionally, experts recommend eye exams with dilation every two years for people at higher risk of developing glaucoma. Regular eye exams can help detect glaucoma in its earlier stages, when it’s easier to treat. Start getting eye exams every two years if you:
- Have a family history of glaucoma
- Are African American 40 years and older
- Are over the age of 60
An eye exam is a very important part of your overall health. If it’s been a few years since you’ve met with an eye doctor, go ahead and schedule that appointment today. The Providence team of eye specialists can assess your eye health and discuss ways to protect your vision and reduce the risk of experiencing problems down the road.
Find a doctor
The team of eye specialists and ophthalmologists at Providence are here to keep your eye health and vision on track so you can experience all the beauty life has to offer. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.