Friday, July 6, 2012

Oh My Aging Eyes! Vision Concerns As We Age

Much like the rest of the body as it ages, people’s eyes aren’t always what they used to be. “Oftentimes, subtle vision changes are just a normal part of the aging process and many can be effectively managed when caught early,” says C.P. Wilkinson, MD, Chair of GBMC’s Department of Ophthalmology. Vision concerns people commonly experience as they age include the following:

• Difficulty seeing items up close (presbyopia). This normal part of aging occurs when the lens is unable to bend well enough to focus images upon the retina. Reading glasses are a common solution to this problem. Some patients use progressive bifocals or special contact lenses.

• Sensitivity to glare, cloudy/fuzzy vision, double vision and difficulty with oncoming car lights in dim light. All of these symptoms can be related to cataracts, which are lens opacities. Wearing optimal eyeglasses can be helpful if cataracts aren’t bothersome. If a patient’s quality of life is believed to be impacted, surgery is an option. 
• Pain in or around the eye, seeing colored halos around lights, and sudden, severe blurring are symptoms of acute glaucoma, the relatively uncommon form of glaucoma. A loss of peripheral vision may indicate the late stages of chronic glaucoma, a more common form of glaucoma related to excess fluid pressure within the eyes that causes optic nerve damage. Older patients, those with a family history and African Americans are most at risk. One of the major challenges related to glaucoma is its lack of symptoms until very late in the course of disease.  Drops, lasers, and/or surgery are potential treatments to reduce the pressure in the eyes. Early detection of optic nerve damage before any visual field changes is key.

• Mild vision changes associated with pigment changes in the eye or the presence of small, yellowish deposits known as drusen. Signs like these may point to early stages of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of legal blindness in senior patients. The disorder affects the macula, or the central point in the retina that is responsible for vision needed for reading, driving and recognizing faces. Caucasians, the elderly and those with a family history are more at risk of developing AMD. Smoking and poor diet can also increase one’s risk. For less severe AMD, treatment may include taking vitamins, antioxidants and zinc. In AMD cases in which leakage and/or hemorrhage in the macula causes more severe vision loss, injections in the eye can help delay the progression of the disease and even improve vision in many instances.

According to Dr. Wilkinson, routine vision screenings can help to identify eye problems early, before permanent vision loss occurs. He advises people to take note of any changes to their visual abilities and discuss them with an ophthalmologist, especially if the changes are sudden and/or accompanied by discomfort or cause a disruption to daily life.

Learn More

GBMC has a number of board-certified ophthalmologists with a range of specialties, from pediatric ophthalmology to age-related vision disorders and low vision. To get additional information or to make an appointment, visit or call 443-849-GBMC (4262).

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