Age-Related Vision Changes: What’s Normal?

As you age, so do your eyes. Perhaps you have difficulty reading smaller text. Maybe you have to squint now and again whenever you look at a computer screen.

For many people, these vision changes are a normal part of aging. However, you shouldn’t take eye problems lightly. What seems like a minor condition now could develop into a serious condition later.

So what age-related vision problems are normal, and which ones should you worry about?

Common Age-Related Conditions

All of us experience good days and bad days, so it may be difficult to spot some of these subtle changes. Fortunately, regular eye exams can catch these problems early, so you can find an easy solution.

Decreased Depth Perception

When both your eyes function normally, they use a combination of retinal disparity and fusion to estimate depth. Retinal disparity means each eye receives a slightly different image due to the different angle of each eye. The brain combines, or fuses, the two images to form one object.

Multiple conditions influence depth perception, including blurred vision, misalignment of the eyes, and poor lighting. As a result, you may have difficulty gauging the height of a curb or the depth of a bathtub.

If you struggle with depth perception, you can try a variety of eye exercises to strengthen your eyes. A healthy diet rich in vitamins A, C, and E can also improve eye health. Ask your eye doctor to find out which exercises and diet changes you should make.

Dry Eyes

Tears are important to eye health. Tears lubricate the eyes, provide oxygen and nutrients to the cornea, and wash away dust and debris. Unfortunately, tear production tends to diminish with age, leading to dry eyes that are vulnerable to irritation.

For mild cases of dry eyes, you can try over-the-counter artificial tear solutions, which supplement natural tear production. For more severe cases, you can also conserve tears via tear duct plugs. These tiny silicone or gel-like plugs inhibit tears from draining, so they keep available tears in the eye longer.

Smaller Pupils

Tiny muscles in your eyes enable your pupils to expand and contract. This in turn enables your eyes to respond to changes in light and contrast. But with time, the tiny muscles in the eyes weaken, and the pupils become smaller as a result.

Smaller pupils create increased sensitivity to bright sunlight, as well as increased difficulty seeing at night. In fact, people in their 60’s need nearly three times more light for comfortable reading than those in their 20s.

If light sensitivity bothers you, consider wearing eyeglasses with photochromic lenses that darken when exposed to outdoor light.

Serious Age-Related Conditions

While common age-related conditions aren’t always pleasant, you can seek treatment and find easy ways to cope. However, if you notice the following symptoms, they may be signs of more serious conditions.

Floaters and Flashes

The gel-like mass in your eyes, or the vitreous, has lots of protein and other material that clumps together. Occasionally these small clumps cast shadows or create specks in your field of vision.

Eye floaters are not dangerous, but when they accompany flashes or vision loss, they could be a sign of retinal detachment. If left untreated, retinal detachment could lead to permanent visual impairment or even blindness.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience this symptom.  A detached retina may require surgery to repair.

You can also learn more about eye floaters in our earlier post.

Loss of Side Vision

While some decrease in depth perception is normal, loss of peripheral (side) vision may be a sign of glaucoma. This eye disorder damages the optic nerve via increased pressure in the eye. As pressure on the nerve increases, you may experience gradual vision loss, tunnel vision, and eye pain.

While experts have yet to develop a cure for glaucoma, you can keep the condition under control through medications and surgery.

Early diagnosis and treatment minimizes vision loss, so don’t delay medical help.

Distorted Images

If you look at a straight line and it appears distorted or wavy, or if you see an empty area in the center of your vision, you may have age-related macular degeneration.

This age-related condition falls into one of two categories:

  • With “dry” macular degeneration, the macula tissue thins and stops functioning. Including low-fat foods and dark leafy vegetables in the diet can slow vision loss.
  • With “wet” macular degeneration, fluid leaks from newly formed blood vessels under the macula, resulting in rapid and severe vision loss. If detected early, surgeons can treat the condition with lasers, sealing the leaking blood vessels.

In either case, you’ll need to seek immediate professional care.

Should You Seek a Specialist?

Whether your conditions are big or small, it’s important to have regular eye exams to detect problems early. Many optometrists can provide solutions for minor issues, but if you have a serious condition, you may need an ophthalmologist for total eye care.