What’s normal and what’s not in aging eye health.

As we age, it’s completely normal to experience changes in vision. Whether you already wear glasses or contacts to correct your vision,  or if you’ve been blessed with 20/20 eagle eyesight, most of us will experience some sort of vision change as we age. Although focusing issues may be most typical, there are changes in vision or eye health that are red flags for something more serious. Read on to find out what is par for the course, and what warrants immediate attention.

Common Age-related Vision Changes

Presbyopia – Often referred to as the “aging eye condition,” presbyopia is the normal change in the eye’s ability to focus. It occurs when the lens inside the eye loses flexibility and the ability to change shape. Changing shape allows for the eye to focus from objects that are far away to objects close up. Presbyopia is most often corrected with reading glasses, progressive lenses, bifocals or multifocal contact lenses.

Floaters – These tiny specks or “cobwebs” in your field of vision that seem to dart away when you look at them are quite common as we age. They occur when the gel-like substance that makes up the eye slowly shrinks. Although they can be annoying, there is no treatment.

Tearing – Some people experience an increase in tearing (watery eyes) and some people experience a reduction in tearing (dry eyes). Watery eyes are the result of sensitivity to wind, temperature or even light, while dry eyes come from a natural reduction in tear production and can cause a burning, itching sensation. Wearing sunglasses can protect eyes from the elements, whereas over-the-counter eye drops can alleviate dry eyes.

Muted Colors – As we age, the cells in our eyes responsible for color perception decline in sensitivity. This makes colors seem less vibrant or “washed” out, and differentiating between similar shades can be difficult.

Peripheral Vision – Everyone experiences roughly a one to three degree loss in peripheral vision per decade of life. A normal part of aging, caution should be practiced when driving since the range of vision reduces as we age.

Concerning Vision Changes

Floaters with Flashes of Light – While having some floaters in your field of vision may be normal, having a significant increase in the number of floaters accompanied by flashes of light is not. This is a warning sign that you may be experiencing a detached or torn retina. If left untreated this could cause blindness. Contact your optometrist immediately.

Fluctuating Vision – If your vision is changing frequently in how clearly you can see or focus, this may be a sign of something more serious. Although our eyes do change, it isn’t normal for them to change multiple times in a short period. High blood pressure or diabetes could be to blame, and the fluctuation can damage the blood vessels of the eye, leading to vision loss.

Loss of Peripheral Vision – If you are experiencing a significant loss in peripheral vision, you may want to see your optometrist and get checked out for glaucoma. Your risk of developing glaucoma increases with age and is caused by too much fluid pressure inside the eye. If left untreated glaucoma can cause vision loss and blindness.

Compromised vision – If you are seeing a dark or empty space or blind spots in your field of vision or what you are looking at seems distorted and out of shape, you should be checked for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is a disease that affects the part of your retina that is responsible for central vision and can’t be restored. AMD is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over the age of 50.

Being conscious about changes in eyesight as you age, along with regularly scheduled eye examinations can help you maintain good vision, and healthy eyes well into your golden years.