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When you've blown out 40 candles on your birthday cake, your eye health to-do list gets a little longer. Some eye health conditions grow more common with age, and some shifts in your optic structure could make new symptoms appear that you've never dealt with before.
People older than 40 often deal with:
- Presbyopia or age-related nearsightedness. (Learn more)
- Dry eyes. (Learn more)
- Glaucoma. (Learn more)
- Changes in perception. (Learn more)
Regular eye exams can help your doctor spot diseases that can harm your eyesight. A few crucial lifestyle changes can also help you ensure that your eyes age with grace. (Learn more)
Newly Nearsighted? It Could Be Presbyopia
Stiffness and soreness are part of the aging process. If you're likely to groan on that first step out of bed in the morning when you'd bound out in your 20s with no problems, you understand. But it's not just your muscles and tendons that stiffen with age. So do the structures in your eyes, and that leads to nearsightedness.
To focus on items close to your face, your eye muscles tug on your lens. With age, the lens stiffens, and despite prompting from your muscles, it may not move as much as it once did.
You may have presbyopia if you:
- Hold a newspaper, magazine, or your phone away from your face to see it.
- Peer over the top of your glasses at reading materials in dark rooms.
- Need more light to do close work.
- Experience eyestrain after long reading sessions.
Experts say presbyopia often develops between the ages of 38 and 42. It's a natural, normal, and common process.
Presbyopia is progressive, however, and that means it will get worse with time. If it does, you might need to swap out your standard glasses for bifocals. Ophthalmologic surgeons can perform advanced procedures such as monovision LASIK and photorefractive keratectomy if you'd like to avoid wearing glasses all the time.
Do Your Eyes Feel Dry and Itchy?
Dry eye conditions grow more common with age, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology, so the symptoms you notice in your 40s may grow worse without treatment.
Your doctor may examine your medications and look for conflicts. If you're using antihistamines, antidepressants, or some types of pain relievers, they could add to dry eye problems. A swap to another therapy could help.
Your doctor may also suggest eye drops to help ease discomfort. Some lubricate the surface of the eye and bring temporary relief, while others spark chemical changes in tear ducts, which could help deliver long-lasting comfort.
If you're hoping to undergo LASIK or another form of refractive surgery, you'll need to work with your doctor on dry eye solutions. Some procedures can make your dryness worse, so your doctor will want to address the problem before you show up for your surgical appointment.
Untreated Glaucoma Can Steal Your Sight
Some eye changes are just bothersome. Others are serious. Glaucoma falls into the latter category, and your risk of developing the issue rises after you celebrate your 40th birthday.
Your risk is especially acute, according to Prevent Blindness, if you are of African American, Hispanic, or Native American descent.
For example, the organization says people of African American descent are four to five times more likely to have glaucoma at 40 and older compared to other ethnic groups.
Glaucoma is a disease of pressure, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that it is the top cause of blindness in people 60 and older.
Typically, the disease causes fluid in the front part of the eye to build up. The sac grows larger within the eye socket, and it presses on the optic nerve. The pressure deprives that nerve of nourishment and information, which can result in blindness.
One form of glaucoma, known as primary open-angle glaucoma, causes no vision changes in the early stages. But eye doctors can spot those shifts during regular eye exams.
The other form of glaucoma, known as angle-closure glaucoma, does cause symptoms. They include:
- Sudden blurred vision.
- Extreme pain in the eye.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Vision changes, including halos around light.
This is a medical emergency, and if signs appear, you need to get attention from an eye doctor right away.
Your Vision Is Changing
Some age-related eye changes don't announce themselves with sharp pain or dramatic shifts in perception. But in time, they can build up. As you enter your 40s, you may start to notice several of these adjustments.
The American Optometric Association says it's common for people in their 40s to experience:
- Blending of colors. The lens within your eye can discolor with age. When it does, subtle shifts between two items of similar hue could elude you.
- Glare and halos. Do the headlights of oncoming cars seem bigger and brighter? Age-related lens changes can make light scatter instead of remaining focused.
- Intolerance to low light. Aging eyes need more light to function properly. You might need brighter bulbs, or you may find that you hold items under lamps and candles to read them.
- Floaters crossing your field of vision. Speckles of debris within your eye can pass in front of the lens. You might see them as shadows or dots swimming past your eyes. This is a natural part of the aging process.
These changes can be bothersome, especially if you have all of them at the same time. If you're worried about anything new happening with your vision, you should see your doctor.
But it might reassure you to know that these are natural, expected changes that happen with age. They typically don't need treatment, and there's no mistake you made that allowed them to happen to you.
Care for Your Aging Eyes
There's nothing like turning 40 to make you feel old, but chances are, you have decades of healthy life in front of you. The lifestyle changes you make right now can help you ensure that you have sharp vision as you age.
To keep your eyes healthy, you'll need to:
- Prioritize eye exams. When you were younger, you may have considered a visit to the eye doctor optional. With age, that's no longer true. Many of the conditions that target older eyes can be detected in eye exams, and when they are, they can be treated effectively. The American Optometric Association recommends that people 40 and older visit the eye doctor at least every two years.
- Wear hats and sunglasses. Many people need cataract surgery by age 60 or 70, according to UCI Health. You might delay that timeframe by focusing on the sun's rays. Sunlight can speed up the formation of cataracts, and they can blur your vision. Wear sunglasses that protect against UV rays, and double down by slapping on a hat with a wide brim.
- Be kind as you work. Staring at a computer screen for hours on end can strain your eye muscles. Look away for about 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Use a timer if you need a reminder.
- Maintain your body's health. Steps you take to keep your body healthy can also benefit your eyes. Experts recommend kicking a smoking habit, exercising regularly, and keeping conditions like diabetes and high pressure under control. These steps can reduce the stress and strain on your eyes, and they can help you ease into older age with a bit less discomfort.
No one likes thinking about getting older, and making shifts to core habits can serve as yet another reminder that your body is aging and changing. But these steps can have a huge impact on the overall health and longevity of your eyes.
Presbyopia. (December 2017). Mayo Clinic.
Tips for Eye Health in Adults 40 to 60. (June 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Who Is at Risk for Glaucoma? Prevent Blindness.
What Is Glaucoma? (November 2018). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Adult Vision: 41 to 60 Years of Age. American Optometric Association.
Oh, My Aging Eyes! What Can I Do to Preserve Sight? (March 2018). UCI Health.
Your Aging Eyes: How You See as Time Goes By. (December 2017). National Institutes of Health.