Eye Problems With Age

We all experience increasing eye problems with age. It’s inevitable, and for some, it starts earlier than it does for others. Several eye conditions are more likely to affect seniors in America, and some of them can be pretty serious. However, with proper care and early detection, problems with eyes in old age can be slowed or corrected. Fixes and prevention for some conditions may be as easy as using corrective lenses or spending less time in front of a computer screen. Other conditions could require surgery and other more invasive treatments.

The key to preventing serious eye problems in elderly patients is proper care. It helps to know what to look for and what prevention tools exist to protect our vision for as long as possible.

We’ve put together this comprehensive guide to problems with eyes in old age so that you know what signs you need to watch for, what might cause your eyes to worsen and what the most common aging eye problems are. We’ll also discuss a game plan for maintaining healthy eyes in retirement, including both prevention of elderly eye problems and planning for the cost of vision care.

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What Causes Eye Problems in Older Adults?

As we age naturally, many parts of our body begin to decline. It’s normal after decades and decades of wear and tear. Part of that wear happens in our eyes which can be debilitating and frustrating. Many seniors over 65 years of age experience age-related macular degeneration, which is the deterioration of the macula, a structure in the eye that enables much of your vision. The breakdown of the optic nerve is also something that happens most predominantly in men and women over the age of 65 and, left untreated, can result in conditions such as glaucoma. The most common cause of blindness worldwide is cataracts, which is a condition that affects older adults primarily. The leading cause of new blindness in Americans over fifty is diabetic retinopathy which can be caused by diabetes. Dry eyes are another significant cause of age-related vision problems.

For many elderly eye issues, parts of our lifestyle may be the root cause. Too much screen time, for instance, may put some strain on your eyes. Other lifestyle factors that can contribute to aging eyes and common vision problems include our diet and hydration habits. The frequency with which we see our eye doctor can also have an impact on the health of our eyes in old age, as a doctor is far more likely to spot conditions early.

Defining Low Vision

Many seniors struggle with low vision, which is a term that refers to vision problems that can’t be corrected. Glasses, contacts, surgery, and medication will not significantly improve your eyesight when you have low vision. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Poor vision gets in the way of getting normal daily activities done
  • You’re unable to read signs and words on the television
  • You struggle to recognize faces
  • Lights feel dimmer than they used to be
  • You struggle to tell colors apart

When you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor and tell them that you are concerned about low vision. You may find that there are some tools available to help with your vision, although low vision cannot be reversed.

Indications of Emergency

Common eye problems in older adults can cause emergency situations. You should always be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of an emergency and should seek out immediate medical attention if you:

  • Experience a sudden loss of sight or blurriness
  • Are experiencing double vision
  • Have noticed swelling around your eye or eyes
  • Are experiencing an increase in floaters
  • Are seeing flashes of light
  • Are experiencing significant eye pain

If you do notice any of these symptoms, get to emergency care or your eye doctor as soon as you can.

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Common Eye Problems With Age

There are many common eye problems with age. The more you know about these conditions, the better equipped you’ll be to prevent them. Let’s take a look at the most common age-related eye issues.

Dry Eyes

When we pass middle age, the efficiency with which we produce tears begins to reduce. That means that the older we get, the dryer our eyes can become. The vast majority of seniors struggle with symptoms of dry eyes, which include itching, burning, and redness. You may be able to counteract these symptoms with over-the-counter eye drops, but if the condition persists, you should see your eye doctor.

Eye Strain and Tension

With the dawning of the computer age, there aren’t many of us who haven’t experienced at least some symptoms of eye strain and the tension it can cause. The symptoms of eye strain can include headache, itchy, dry eyes, and feeling compelled to close your eyelids. It’s essential to give your eyes a break from time to time. Break up your screen time and take breaks when driving long distances. Use lubricating eye drops for relief and ensure you’re getting enough sleep.


Presbyopia sounds scary, but it’s just the name given to the degradation of our vision when looking at things up close. As you get older, you may notice that it becomes more challenging to see small print in books or on a mobile device. This condition is called presbyopia. Age causes the lens in your eye to lose flexibility, much like many other parts of our body. As this happens, it becomes increasingly difficult to see things up close. You can correct this with reading glasses, bifocals, or progressive lenses. In some cases, you may even be able to get an implant from an eye surgeon. There isn’t much that you can do to prevent presbyopia.

Floaters and Flashers

Floaters are those wriggly specks you see in your field of vision that sometimes look like something you might see under a microscope. You may also experience small flashes of light. Floaters can indicate a more severe problem, but in most people who experience them, this is a normal part of the aging process. Floaters are caused by changes in the fluid behind our eyes. Any sudden increase in the number of floaters you’re seeing means you should see your eye doctor as soon as possible, but gradual changes are expected. Regular vision care appointments will ensure that everything is functioning normally.


Tearing is another name for too many tears. This condition can be caused by light sensitivity and climate changes. Sunglasses can prevent tearing, but it’s time to see your eye doctor if the problem persists. Excessive tears could signify a problem in your tear duct or another eye condition such as dry eyes.


Blepharitis is a condition marked by swollen, irritated eyelids. Causes include bacteria as well as dandruff. You may experience swelling, stinging, itchiness, and pain with this condition. Some patients will also notice a sort of crust in the eyelashes. Sometimes caused by other skin conditions like rosacea, blepharitis can be calmed by treating the skin condition. You may also be able to prevent this condition with regular, gently cleansing around the eye. If you notice any of the symptoms of blepharitis, it’s essential to see your eye doctor in case you’ve contracted pink eye, which is highly contagious.

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Age-related Eye Problems: Diseases, Disorders, and Conditions

As we age, we become more susceptible to diseases, disorders, and conditions including those that affect our vision. Here are a few of the most common diseases, disorders and conditions that cause problems with eyesight in old age.


Cataracts cause cloudy vision and are brought on by the proteins in the lens deteriorating. Age can cause this deterioration. Cataracts are one of the most common eye problems with age and affect many seniors. People are at increased risk of developing cataracts when they are white, have diabetes, don’t often use sunglasses or other eye protection in bright sunlight, or are on medications. Cataracts are easily corrected with a very simple surgery.


Glaucoma is a more severe condition than cataracts as there is no cure, and it can result in permanent blindness. Caused by increased pressure in the eye breaking down the optic nerve, glaucoma may not present symptoms at first, which makes it all the more crucial to see your eye doctor regularly. Black people are at increased risk of developing glaucoma, and other risk factors are genetics, diabetes and medications. Treatments can help to slow the progression and ease symptoms and may include eye drops, drugs, laser treatment, or surgery.

Age-related Macular Degeneration

One of the top causes of vision loss in the United States is macular degeneration. The macula is a part of the retina that handles central vision and our ability to see color. There aren’t many early symptoms but later on, you can begin to experience blurry vision, difficulty reading and image distortion. Macular degeneration cannot be cured as of yet but this condition can be prevented and progress can be slowed. Wearing sunglasses outside, eating a nutritious diet, and quitting smoking can all help slow down the progression of the disease.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy occurs in patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. This condition occurs when blood vessels found in the retina are damaged. Often the damage is a result of high glucose. Patients with diabetic retinopathy report experiencing cloudy or blurry vision and an increase in floaters. As this is a progressive disease, symptoms will worsen with time and can lead to total blindness. If you are a diabetes patient, it’s essential to stick to your diet and monitor to prevent this condition and save your vision.

Retinal Disorders and Detachment

When we age, the fluid in our eye can change, causing the retina to pull away from the back of the eye. Although it sounds painful, it is not. However, left untreated, this condition can cause serious impairment to your vision and can lead to permanent loss of eyesight. Early symptoms include a sudden influx of new floaters in your vision, as well as flashes, shadows in your vision and difficulty seeing. If this happens, it’s time to see your eye doctor as soon as possible.


Otherwise known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is very contagious and should be treated as soon as possible. Caused by irritation of the eye from various sources, bacteria or viruses, this condition causes the inflammation of the tissue that lines our eyes. You may notice a feeling of something in your eye, redness, watery eyes, itchiness and sometimes your eye can become goopy and crusty. This condition is very easily treated with antibiotic eye drops and does not often cause lasting damage.

Corneal Diseases

Disease and injuries that affect the eye’s cornea can cause excessive tearing, irritation, pain, blurry or cloudy vision, and obstructed vision. Corneal diseases encompass different conditions and trauma affecting the cornea, which can often heal itself. However, some conditions that are degenerative can have longer-lasting effects. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan to avoid long-lasting effects.

Eyelid Problems

There are quite a few different conditions that can cause problems with your eyelids. You may experience drooping eyelids or ptosis. Blepharitis or inflamed eyelids is another. Some seniors struggle with meibomianitis, which is when the oil glands around the eyelashes are clogged and become irritated. Some patients form a chalazion, which is a small bump under the skin of the eyelid. Because the eyelid protects the eye, conditions affecting it can cause irritation, redness, stinging, tearing, and dryness in your eyes. Treatments depend on the condition you have, but the key is early detection. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see your eye doctor.

Temporal Arteritis

Temporal arteritis can be alarming as it often causes awful headaches and sudden vision loss. Caused by the inflammation and obstruction of arteries near your temple, this condition can also lead to jaw pain, tenderness in the scalp and temples, fever, and joint weakness in shoulders and hips. If left untreated, and vision loss results, it can’t often be reversed, which means early detection is imperative. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away.


As we age, our eyelids loosen, and the skin loses its elasticity. This can sometimes result in our eyelashes growing inward rather than outward. This is known as trichiasis, and it can also be caused by eye trauma or a recent infection affecting the eyelid. Trichiasis is fairly common after middle age but becomes more common the older we get. When it occurs, the individual eyelash hairs can irritate the eye causing abrasion, irritation, and pain. This condition can be treated, often by removing the affected eyelashes.

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Eye Aids to Increase Vision

When we experience age-related eyesight problems that are not alleviated by our corrective lenses, other aids may improve our vision. These devices are often more powerful than ordinary glasses and can offer some assistance with eyesight. They include:

  • Magnifying glasses and handheld magnifiers
  • Protective lenses like UV filtering sunglasses
  • High-powered glasses
  • Tablets and smartphones with accessibility features that increase the font size
  • Computer and tablet screen magnifiers
  • Text to speech features on various electronic devices
  • Devices such as scales, thermometers, kitchen gadgets, and blood pressure monitors that speak
  • Voice recorders to use for notetaking in place of paper and notepads

These devices may not bring back your vision, but they can help you accomplish your day to day tasks without assistance.

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How to Increase Eye Health and Prevent Age-related Eye Problems

Prevention is the best option when it comes to protecting your vision. While some conditions are hereditary and will develop and progress no matter what you do, there are also many eye conditions that can be prevented with proper eye care. Here are some steps you can take to protect your eyes from some age-related eye issues:

  • Wear sunglasses when you’re in the sun
  • See your eye doctor regularly
  • Eat a balanced nutritious diet
  • Make sure you’re staying hydrated
  • Get your exercise
  • Quit smoking
  • Monitor your blood pressure
  • If you have diabetes, stay on top of your diet and monitoring
  • Use hydrating eye drops when you experience dry eyes
  • Keep your eyes free of bacteria, which means try not to touch your eyes excessively and if you have to, wash your hands
  • Keep your glasses clean
  • Break up your time in front of screens
  • Take proper care of your contact lenses

These habits will help you to avoid eye conditions as much as possible, but the most important thing you can do is to follow your doctor’s advice.

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Paying for Vision Care

Medicare does not cover routine eye care, however some medically necessary eye care and screening may be covered, including annual diabetic retinopathy exams, diagnostic screenings for macular degeneration, and annual glaucoma screenings for at-risk groups. Your cataract surgery may also be covered. You will not get coverage for routine eye exams or corrective lenses with Original Medicare.

Some Medicare Advantage plans will offer different levels of coverage for eye care. Depending on where you live and what you qualify for, you may be able to select a plan that covers your vision needs.

Seniors who may still be working may be covered through their employer’s benefits. It is always worth it to double-check before paying out of pocket.

Many costs for seniors may come down to paying out of pocket, so it’s important to plan ahead for such expenses. You can start now to set aside money in a savings account for vision-related expenses or explore coverage that offers vision care after retirement. Lower-income seniors may also qualify for Medicaid, which will cover routine eye care.

You may also look into organizations that offer assistance with vision care for seniors. For instance, Eyecare America offers some free vision care services to low income people. Lions Clubs near you may also be set up to help you obtain free or low-cost eye care. There are many other national, state and local organizations that may also be able to assist you with paying for your vision care.

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