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Guide Health: Yes, your eyes are getting old

As you get older, you’ll be bothered more by the glare of headlights, and you’ll find it harder to read small print too. But don’t hesitate to get checked out, especially if you notice any pain

As with any part of your body, your eyes change as they age. Often, in fact, eye conditions are attributed to old age. It is estimated that 500,000 Canadians are affected by macular degeneration, plus 2.5 million by cataracts and 250,000 by glaucoma.

These conditions seem to occur in older people more often. They are conditions that develop over decades, however, and eventually you notice them because your eyesight isn’t what it used to be.

Glaucoma is an increase in pressure in your eye ball, which eventually reduces your peripheral vision. Luckily it can be successfully controlled by a variety of eye drops.

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Macular degeneration results when cells die in the macula, a pea sized group of cells at the back of your eye ball that is essential to vision. Macular degeneration causes a loss of your central vision, and unfortunately once the cells have died vision cannot be restored.

Cataracts are the hardening of your lens resulting in cloudy vision, almost like frost on a window. Cataract surgery removes your old lens and inserts an artificial lens, thereby restoring your vision.

With age, other eye problems occur which, at the very least, are bothersome. Most noticeable is your decreased ability to read fine print, a condition called presbyopia. With age your eye is less able to focus close up because of a loss of accommodation, like an old elastic band losing some of its spring. Magnifying reading glasses are often worn, but you may eventually need multi-focal glasses.

Older people also often have an increased sensitivity to bright lights and they react to car headlights when driving at night, glare from bright sunlight, or even bright lights when leaving a dimly lit room like a movie theatre. And, the older you are the brighter the light you may need when reading. These effects are the result of the loss of strength of the muscles that control your pupil size and its reaction to light. Anti-glare coating on eye glasses may help, as will wearing sunglasses outdoors.

Dry eyes also become more problematic with age. Wearing contact lenses, low humidity, and prolonged visual tasks such as working at a computer screen which reduces your blinking, seem to worsen dry eyes. With age, tear ducts do not produce as many tears to keep eyes moisturized. More women than men are affected and it is thought to be because of hormone changes that occur with menopause. Artificial tears will alleviate the dryness and, thanks to the wide variety of these products, you are sure to find one that suits you.

You want to protect your eyesight regardless of your age, and it is especially important to do so when you are young to make sure you have the best possible vision when older. You know to wear protective eyeglasses whenever doing anything that could damage your eyes, including working in dusty environments.

But don’t smoke, because smoking can cause changes in your eyesight. Also avoid ultra violet light exposure. As well, some conditions can contribute to vision loss, for example, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, so you will want to keep good control of them.

If you experience any changes in your eyesight, don’t ignore them. Get them checked, especially if you experience eye pain, increased light sensitivity, or fluctuating vision. After all, you only get one pair of eyes in your life!

About the author


Marie Berry is a lawyer/pharmacist interested in health and education.



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