If you’ve already hit the 40-year mark, you know some of the ways that your eyes have changed. You probably can’t go out for dinner and order off the menu without your eyeglasses, for example. Presbyopia is a condition that happens to all of us and nothing to be concerned about. However, other problems can indicate something more serious.
Let’s discuss what happens to the eyes as we age and why vision is often affected.
How Eyesight Works
The entry point for light is the cornea, the tissue in the front of the eye that acts as a window. The light signal then passes through the lens and the retina. Once light reaches the retina, it is converted into a neural signal and carried to the brain by the optic nerve. The brain interprets this as an image. It’s not a process that we think of often, but you can imagine how remarkable it is!
As we age, there can be problems with one or more of these structures. Here are a few of the things that can change over time and affect our vision.
Irritated Corneal Surface
The corneal surface is what allows us to see clearly, so if the surface is not smooth, the image will be distorted. Usually, it’s the disruption of tears that causes the cornea to be rough, something that is more likely to happen with age. Blepharitis is the proper name for “inflammation of the eyelids.” When the eyelids are inflamed, this interferes with healthy tear production and can lead to corneal-related problems. Treatment is available.
Less Flexible and Clear Lens
The lens is also subject to change from the natural aging process. Cataracts and presbyopia are two of the most common conditions that affect the lens. When we’re born, our lens are clear and pliable. This helps us see images that are near and far. As we age, the lens cloud up and become less pliable. When the lens becomes hardened – usually near middle age – it can’t focus on objects very well. Treatment is available for this as well.
Conditions Affect the Retina and Optic Nerve
The retina and optic nerve work together, so if something goes wrong with one of them, both fail. The retina is a complex tissue that converts light passing through the eye into a neural signal. The neural signal is transmitted to the brain by the optic nerve. As we age, however, certain diseases affect the retina and optic nerve, such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma. The early detection of these diseases can prevent and minimize vision loss.
We often assume that our eyesight will deteriorate with age, but it doesn’t have to be this way. By seeing the eye doctor regularly and following other good practices (eating nutritious foods, wearing sunglasses, managing your blood pressure) you can preserve your eye health and enjoy excellent vision for years to come.