When asked about their vision, many older adults will respond, “It is definitely not as good as it used to be, but I just assumed this is the new reality now that I’ve crossed that 40-year mark.” However, there is no reason for people not to maintain clear vision throughout life. In order to understand the causes of reduced vision, one must first appreciate the various parts of the eye.
The cornea is the tissue which covers the front of our eye and is the first structure that light must pass through. The cornea is bathed in tears which help bend light rays and help maintain corneal health. These tears are produced by various glands within the eye and the eyelid. If someone is suffering from inflammation of her eyelids or a problem with tear production, the corneal integrity will be compromised and result in a reduced vision. The incidence of inflammation and dry eye tends to increase with age but can be treated with a variety a methods. Oftentimes, the simple use of an eye drop is all that is needed and you would be surprised what a world of a difference it can make both in the quality of vision and the comfort of the eyes!
After passing through the cornea, light proceeds to the interior of the eye and reaches the lens. This lens, transparent at birth, becomes increasingly cloudy as one ages, due to a number of factors, including ultraviolet radiation. This cloudiness—known as a cataract—blocks light from continuing on to the back of the eye. While everyone will develop cataracts, the thickness of the cataract varies. When it begins affecting the quality of life, a simple procedure can be performed to remove the cataract and replace it with an artificial, transparent lens. Since UV light is the primary cause of cataracts, using sunglasses with ultraviolet protection from a young age can help delay the onset of significant cataracts.
The lens is also involved in changing the focus of our eye which is necessary for clear near vision. As we get older, the lens becomes less flexible, making reading more difficult. This can be easily solved with a pair of “reading” glasses that do the work of focusing for us. And while glasses can make a great fashion statement, there are recently developed contact lenses designed to afford clear distance and near vision simultaneously. These lenses involve careful fitting by a skilled eye doctor, yet for those of us who have come to rely on contact lenses and do not want to revert to keeping track of a pair of glasses, this is a great option!
Once passing through the lens, light reaches the back of the eye. There, the retina and optic nerve work together to send a message to the brain to be processed into a meaningful image. Any disease of the retina or the nerve will result in blurred vision. Glaucoma, macular degeneration and changes caused by diabetes and high blood pressure are perhaps the most common ones. The only way to detect these problems is through regular eye examinations and when caught early, treatment can be initiated to prevent worsening vision.
In summary, there are numerous changes throughout life that can lead to reduced vision. Many of these problems can be easily treated by an eye doctor so that clear and comfortable vision is maintained from childhood through adulthood. Never assume that worsening vision is unavoidable. You would be surprised what a visit to the eye doctor can solve!
Shoshana Pinsky, OD, is a licensed optometrist who practices in Englewood, NJ. She provides routine eye examinations, with a special interest in difficult-to-fit contact lenses, as well as diagnoses and treatment of ocular diseases for both the pediatric and adult population. Shoshana can be reached at 201-835-7909 or at smpinsky_yahoo.com
By Shoshana Pinsky