As we get older, our eyes and vision change. Here’s an age-by-age look at what to expect and watch for.
What changes to our eyesight are normal?
Big changes to our eyes happen over the course of several decades, ultimately affecting the way we see starting in our 40s.
- The lens of the eye changes, becoming less flexible, limiting its ability to switch its focus from objects that are far, to objects that are close.
- The lens also sometimes starts to discolor, and causes light entering the eye to be scattered.
- The muscles controlling pupil size and reaction to light lose their strength, resulting in reduced pupil size.
- Eyes produce fewer tears.
- The vitreous (a gel-like substance) inside the eye begins to liquefy and pull away from the retina.
Around age 40
Your eyes don’t have the same focusing power that they used to. You might notice that your ability to see things up close — such as the words on a label or text on your phone — diminishes.
This is called presbyopia, or farsightedness, and it’s one of the refractive errors (the other two are myopia, or nearsightedness, and astigmatism). To help you see objects up close, you’ll need to start wearing reading glasses, progressive lenses or multifocal contact lenses.
See a doctor for a comprehensive eye exam every 2 years. It’s possible you’ll need more frequent prescription changes to your glasses or contact lenses to minimize the effects of farsightedness.
Around age 50
Your presbyopia will likely continue to worsen. Other things you might have started noticing:
- You might need more light for work or reading.
- You may have issues with glare from the sun or headlights when driving.
- You may notice you perceive colors differently.
- Your eyes may become increasingly dry or irritated.
Around age 60 and beyond
You’ll probably notice that changes in your near vision will stop, and you’ll need fewer adjustments to your prescription. As the changes to your eye structures advance with each decade, you’ll like notice that:
- You need more ambient light for reading.
- Your peripheral vision decreases — by our 70s and 80s, we typically experience a normal peripheral visual field decrease of 20 to 30 degrees.
- You see spots or floaters.
Starting at age 65, you should start increasing your regular eye exams, seeing your eye doctor every year.
What vision problems are not normal as we age?
Vision changes are normal; vision loss is not a normal part of aging and could be a sign of a serious condition. Our risk of developing certain conditions does increase as we age, especially if we have other health conditions, such as diabetes, or behaviors, such as smoking.
Cataracts: A clouding of the clear lens of the eye.
You might experience: Cloudy or blurred vision, increased difficulty seeing at night, double vision in one eye, fading or yellowing of colors, or halos.
What to do: Cataracts can be managed with eyeglasses if caught early, but the only cure is surgery. Be sure to visit your eye doctor if you have any of the above symptoms.
Glaucoma: A group of conditions that damage the optic nerve, often caused by high pressure in the eye.
You might experience: Progressive loss of peripheral vision, followed by a loss of your central vision (open-angle glaucoma), or severe eye pain and redness (closed-angle glaucoma).
What to do: See your eye doctor if you experience these symptoms. Treatment could include medication, surgery, or laser therapy. Glaucoma can lead to irreversible blindness if not treated.
Macular Degeneration: An issue forms with the part of your eye that is responsible for central vision.
You might experience: A blind or blurry spot in your central vision, visual distortions, or overall haziness of vision.
What to do: Seek help from your eye doctor. There are two types of age-related macular degeneration: wet, and dry. Depending on the type, your doctor may prescribe medication, laser therapy, or rehabilitation therapy, or a healthy diet and nutritional supplements.
Diabetic retinopathy: The most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes.
You might experience: Distorted or blurred vision, floaters, and difficulty seeing colors.
What to do: Keep your diabetes under control, check in with your eye doctor regularly, and let him or her know if you’re experiencing any symptoms of retinopathy. It should be treated right away.
Keeping your eyes healthy as you age
Even though aging is inevitable, as are certain changes to our eyes, there are still habits you can develop that will protect your vision.
- Exercise regularly to help minimize eye pressure.
- Wear sunglasses every time you are outdoors.
- Eat a diet rich in leafy greens and fatty fish.
- Protect your eyes with goggles or other task-specific eyewear when participating in sports or doing other activities (such as woodworking).