Caring for ageing eyes
Common eye conditions to be aware of as one ages and early detection remains key.
BY: Dr David Chan
Like the rest of our bodies, our eyes also undergo a natural ageing process, and if we are not aware and prepared for these changes as we grow older, it can end up being quite a frustrating transition. Here are some subtle changes in our behaviour that may indicate signs of deterioration in our visual acuity:
- Squinting when we are out and about may be a sign that our eyes are becoming more sensitive to light and glare.
- Experiencing difficulty when reading, writing, or even just checking labels and price tags.
- Finding normal tasks such as threading a needle a bit more frustrating.
- Being clumsier in our movements, either by missing steps, tripping or finding ourselves bumping into things as we walk.
- Feeling discomfort in our eyes which can either feel unusually wet or dry.
- Seeing white particles that seem to float in the eyes.
Here is a quick overview of some of the common eye conditions that you need to be aware of as you grow older:
- Presbyopia is a progressive condition that usually happens around the ages of 40 onwards. Caused by a gradual lack of flexibility in the eye’s lens, it decreases the eye’s ability to focus sharply on nearby objects, which requires the use of reading glasses.
- Dry Eye Syndrome is tear production deficits due to hormonal changes in our body causing an uncomfortable, gritty sensation in the eye. Commonly experienced by women, this can be addressed with artificial tears or in more serious cases, special medication.
- Cataract is a clouding of the lens that occurs over time. The first sign is the need for better lighting when reading or doing other tasks, or sensing a gradual cloudiness that blocks the central line of sight and impairs vision. This is quite a common eye condition that can be treated through a simple operation.
- Glaucoma is an extremely serious eye disease that has no warning symptoms and can cause severe damage to the optic nerve. If left untreated, it can lead to irreversible blindness. Early detection is key and treatment may include eye drops, oral medication or surgery.
- Age-related Macular Degeneration occurs when the macula (the central part of the retina responsible for sharp vision) is damaged. Regular eye exams can detect the disease early on and laser treatments can slow down central vision loss.
- Diabetic Retinopathy is an eye problem linked to diabetes. Changes to blood vessels can cause the retina to become oxygen-starved. Symptoms include cloudy vision and seeing spots, and this can lead to severe vision loss or even total blindness. Regular examinations can detect diabetes, and the appropriate treatment can slow down vision loss.
- Floaters are signs of wear of the vitreous, which is the clear jelly that fills the eyeball. In the elderly, parts of it often fragment into little clumps called floaters, which are seen as small, moving, dark spots. Floaters are usually benign but could occasionally be annoying.
- Retinal detachment occurs when the retina detaches from the back of the eye and is sometimes accompanied with light flashes at the sides of the eye. This is quite a serious condition as the detached portion ceases to properly transmit light signals to the brain and if left untreated, it may lead to partial or complete loss of vision.
While it may not be possible to bring back the keen eyesight that we may have had in our youth, taking the right preventive measures early to maintain our visual health can make a great difference to our overall quality of life. So don’t wait until your vision deteriorates before you have an eye examination, as they are more than just a simple test of your sight. If you are over 50, you should go every year for an eye check-up. As windows to your overall health, the condition of your eyes is crucial to your well-being.
Dr David Chan is the senior consultant ophthalmologist and medical director of Atlas Eye Specialist Centre and is among the first few eye surgeons in Singapore to be equipped to perform the latest/third-generation technique in laser vision correction, ReLEx SMILE, which is known for its less invasive nature. His expertise is in laser refractive surgery, intra-ocular refractive surgery and the management of complex cataract surgery.
(** PHOTO: JD Mason, unsplash.com/photos/cKT0oJL9vMI)