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Patient education: Age-related vision loss (The Basics)

Patient education: Age-related vision loss (The Basics)

What causes age-related vision loss? — There are many things that lead to vision loss as you get older. Different conditions affect different parts of the eye (figure 1). The most common are:

Cataracts – A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye.

Glaucoma – Glaucoma is a disease that damages the main nerve in the eye, called the optic nerve.

Macular degeneration – Macular degeneration is a condition that damages the macula. The macula is part of the retina in the back of the eye.

Diabetic retinopathy – Diabetic retinopathy damages the retina, too. But in this case the damage is related to having blood sugar levels that are too high for many years. This type of vision loss affects people with diabetes.

Presbyopia – Presbyopia occurs when the lens of the eye can no longer focus the right way on things that are close. Presbyopia occurs with aging in everyone.

Refractive errors – Refractive errors, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, happen when the cornea (a structure in the front of the eye) cannot focus images onto the back of the eye the right way. Refractive errors can occur at any age.

Who should be tested for age-related vision loss? — Experts recommend that people have at least 1 full eye exam (called a "comprehensive eye exam") after they turn 40.

If you are 40 or older, you should be tested even if your vision is fine. That's because many eye conditions do not affect vision until they are very advanced. By then, it might be too late to protect your vision. But if you catch a problem early, you can sometimes prevent vision loss.

During the comprehensive eye exam, an eye doctor:

Looks into the back of your eye with a magnifying tool to check for signs of nerve damage.

Checks how well you see things in the center of focus and how well you see things that are off to the side.

Checks the pressure inside your eye by pushing or blowing on your eye with a special tool. People with glaucoma often have too much pressure inside the eye.

What treatments are available? — It depends on the cause of vision loss. For instance, some people with cataracts might need surgery to replace the lens in their eye. People with glaucoma can take drops to lower the pressure inside their eyes. With some forms of vision loss, early treatment is very important because it can prevent further vision loss.

Can age-related vision loss be prevented? — Some types of age-related vision loss can be prevented. You can reduce your chances of developing vision loss by:

Not smoking (or quitting if you smoke)

Keeping your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible if you have diabetes

Wearing goggles or other types of eye protection when you use heavy machinery or do anything that could hurt your eyes

There is also some evidence that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fat and cholesterol can help prevent vision loss in some people.

What if I already have age-related vision loss? — If you already have vision loss, remember that there are tools that can help you make the most of the vision you have left. For instance, you can use:

Magnifying devices that mount on the TV and other screens

Large print books

Computer programs that allow your computer to read aloud to you

Braille – Braille is a form of language that uses raised dots. People who are blind read books and signs in braille by passing their fingers over these dots.

More on this topic

Patient education: Cataracts (The Basics)
Patient education: Open-angle glaucoma (The Basics)
Patient education: Age-related macular degeneration (The Basics)
Patient education: Diabetic retinopathy (The Basics)
Patient education: Presbyopia and refractive errors (The Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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