Because the risks of developing eye diseases often increase as we age, it is very important that everyone aged 60 and above has a yearly eye exam with either an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

An optometrist is licensed to examine, diagnose and treat common eye conditions and diseases, and prescribe proper glasses and contact lenses.  An ophthalmologist is a physician who specializes in eye and vision care, as well as extensive medical and surgical treatments should their needs arise.

Common age-related eye diseases include age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults. The macula – the part of the eye needed for sharp, central vision – may become severely damaged if the disease is not treated at an early stage.

  • In dry AMD, macula cells slowly break down. The starting symptoms may include difficulties reading, watching television and driving.
  • In wet or advanced AMD most symptoms do not increase over time. Instead, straight lines may suddenly appear to be crooked, and a small blind spot may block one’s central vision.

Depending on the type and stage of AMD, possible treatments may include high doses of specific vitamins and mineral supplements, laser surgery or special drug injections in the affected eye.

Cataracts
occur when protein deposits clump together and cloud the eye’s internal lens. As time passes, the cataract’s size may slowly increase. Common symptoms include cloudy or blurry vision, poor night vision, and senses of glaring brightness from headlights, lamps or sunlight. Luckily, many early cataract symptoms may be improved with proper eyeglasses or better lighting. However, should the need arise, outpatient surgery – one of the most common surgeries performed in the U.S. – may be a highly positive last resort.

Diabetic retinopathy is a symptom of diabetes that damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina – the light-sensitive lining of the back of the eye. If left untreated, the disease may progress to cause severe vision loss or blindness. Since diabetic retinopathy seldom has warning signs or symptoms, early diagnosis and treatment can extremely reduce its potential risks.

Glaucoma occurs when eye fluids build up and create pressures that may damage the optic nerve. As the disease progresses, vision loss and total blindness may occur.  Although glaucoma has no symptoms, if diagnosed at an early stage, treatments including prescription eye drops and laser surgery may control the pressure by draining fluids from each impacted eye.

Yearly comprehensive eye exams can help people reduce their risk of developing age-related vision problems by detecting, attacking and controlling them in their early stages.

For more information, visit the National Eye Institute at nei.nih.gov/agingeye or call NEI at 301-496-5248.