The ageing eye conditions you need to know about
Regular eye health checks are essential as you get older – even if you have no current vision problems.
Getting older brings lots of joy, wisdom and fulfilment, but it also means we need to pay a little more attention to our health. Eye health is no exception.
Ageing increases our risk of many eye conditions that can lead to vision loss. The good news is, most vision loss can be prevented if it’s caught early enough. That’s why regular eye health checks are essential as you get older, even if you have no vision problems.
Often, these conditions have no symptoms until disease has already advanced, so you may not realise there’s a problem. To make sure any problems are caught early, make an appointment with an eye health professional once a year, or at least every two years.
Here are some of the most common ageing eye conditions to be aware of:
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
The macula is a tiny but important part of the retina, at the back of the eye. It’s full of light-sensitive cells that are responsible for our sharp central vision.
In age-related macular degeneration (AMD), these cells gradually deteriorate. This can lead to blurred central vision, making it difficult to read, drive and recognise faces.
One in seven people over the age of 50 develops early signs of AMD. There are often no symptoms until the disease advances, so routine eye checks are important.
There are two main forms of late-stage AMD – dry and wet. Dry AMD develops slowly and there is currently no treatment. Wet AMD can cause sudden vision loss, but if caught early enough it can be treated with injections that can stabilise or improve vision.
Glaucoma affects the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. If left untreated, it can lead to vision loss and eventual blindness.
One in 10 people over the age of 80 has glaucoma. Family history of glaucoma, high eye pressure and eye injuries can all increase your risk.
Glaucoma typically progresses slowly and can often go unnoticed until vision loss is advanced, so regular eye checks are vital. Early treatment can prevent vision loss, but it can’t repair damage. Common treatments include eye-drop medications, laser or surgery, all of which are aimed at lowering the pressure in the eye.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, causing blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Most cataracts develop during adulthood and almost everyone will develop some degree of cataracts by the age of 80.
Family history, sun exposure, smoking and diabetes can increase your risk of cataracts and the likelihood of developing them at a younger age. Long-term use of certain medications, eye trauma and some types of eye surgery can also increase your risk.
Cataracts are commonly removed with surgery, and vision recovery is generally quick. Your eye doctor will advise if surgery could be a good option for you.
Diabetic retinopathy (DR)
People with diabetes (types 1 and 2) are at risk of diabetic eye disease. The most common form is diabetic retinopathy (DR), which damages the tiny blood vessels of the retina, the back of the eye.
Most vision loss from DR can be prevented, as long as it’s caught early enough. However, there are often no symptoms until the disease is in its advanced stages – so regular eye checks are essential.
If you have diabetes, it’s important to let your eye care professional know. You should have a diabetes eye check when you’re first diagnosed with diabetes, and then at least every two years. Your eye doctor will recommend a check-up schedule that’s best for you, as more frequent checks are needed by those at higher risk of vision loss.
To get free reminders when it’s time for a diabetes eye check, you can sign up at keepsight.org.au
Healthy ageing eyes guide
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This guide gives you an introduction to the major ageing eye diseases you need to know about – and some simple steps you can take now to protect your vision for the future.