Beginning in the early to mid-40s, many adults may start to have problems seeing clearly at close distances, especially when reading and working on the computer. This is among the most common problems adults develop between ages 41 to 60. This normal change in the eye’s focusing ability, called presbyopia, will continue to progress over time.
Initially, you may need to hold reading materials farther away to see them clearly. Or you may need to remove your glasses to see better up close. Print in the newspaper or on a restaurant menu may appear blurred, especially under dim lighting.
If you already wear prescription glasses or contact lenses to see clearly in the distance, these changes in your near vision can be corrected by switching to bifocal or multifocal lenses. Fortunately, people with presbyopia now have many options to improve their vision.
During these years, schedule a comprehensive eye examination with your optometrist at least every two years to check for developing eye and vision problems. Don’t rely on the limited driver’s license vision test or other insufficient vision screenings to determine if you have an eye or vision problem.
Adults over 40 who have the following health or work issues may be particularly at risk for developing eye and vision problems:
- Chronic, systemic conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
- A family history of glaucoma or macular degeneration.
- A highly visually demanding job or work in an eye-hazardous occupation.
- Health conditions related to high cholesterol, thyroid, anxiety or depression, and arthritis for which you take medications. Many medications, even antihistamines, have vision side effects.
Understanding Age-related Vision Changes
Just like your body, your eyes and vision change over time. While not everyone will experience the same symptoms, the following are common age-related vision changes:
- Need for more light. As you age, you need more light to see as well as you used to. Brighter lights in your work area or next to your reading chair will help make reading and other close-up tasks easier.
- Difficulty reading and doing close work. Printed materials can become less clear, in part because the lens in your eye becomes less flexible over time. This makes it harder for your eyes to focus on near objects than when you were younger.
- Problems with glare. When driving, you may notice additional glare from headlights at night or sun reflecting off windshields or pavement during the day. Changes in your lenses in your eyes cause light entering the eye to be scattered rather than focused precisely on the retina. This creates more glare.
- Changes in color perception. The normally clear lens located inside your eye may start to discolor. This makes it harder to see and distinguish between certain color shades.
- Reduced tear production. With age, the tear glands in your eyes will produce fewer tears. This is particularly true for women experiencing hormone changes. As a result, your eyes may feel dry and irritated. Having an adequate amount of tears is essential for keeping your eyes healthy and for maintaining clear sight.
Encountering Problems with Near Vision after 40
If you have never needed eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct distance vision, then experiencing near vision problems after age 40 can be concerning and frustrating. You may feel like you’ve abruptly lost the ability to read the newspaper or see the cell phone numbers.
Actually, these changes in your focusing power have been occurring gradually since childhood. Now your eyes don’t have enough focusing power to see clearly for reading and other close vision tasks.
Losing this focusing ability for near vision, called presbyopia, occurs because the lens inside the eye becomes less flexible. This flexibility allows the eye to change focus from objects that are far away to objects that are close. People with presbyopia have several options to regain clear near vision. They include:
- Eyeglasses, including single vision reading glasses and multifocal lenses
- Contact lenses, including monovision and bifocal lenses
- Laser surgery and other refractive surgery procedures
As you continue to age, presbyopia becomes more advanced. You may notice that you need to change your eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions more frequently than you used to. Around age 60, these changes in near vision should stop, and prescription changes should occur less frequently.
Presbyopia can’t be prevented or cured, but most people should be able to regain clear, comfortable near vision for all of their lifestyle needs.
Warning Signs of Eye Health Problems
This is also the time in life when your risk for developing a number of eye and vision problems increases. The following symptoms could be the early warning signs of a serious eye health problem:
- Fluctuating vision. Frequent changes in how clearly you can see may be a sign of diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure). These chronic conditions can damage the tiny blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye. This vision loss can sometimes be permanent.
- Seeing floaters and flashes. Occasionally, you may see spots or floaters in your eyes. In most cases, these are shadowy images of particles floating in the fluid that fills the inside of the eye. Although they can be bothersome, spots and floaters typically don’t harm vision. They are a natural part of the eye’s aging process.
But if you suddenly see more floaters than normal, along with bright, flashing lights, see your optometrist immediately. This could be a sign that you have a tear in your retina, and it could detach. This should be treated immediately to prevent serious loss of vision.
- Loss of side vision. Losing peripheral or side vision may be a sign of glaucoma. Glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged and no longer transmits all visual images to the brain. It often has no symptoms until damage your vision has begun.
- Seeing distorted images. Straight lines that appear distorted or wavy or an empty area in the center of your vision could be signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The disease affects the macula, which is the part of your retina that is responsible for central vision. The disease causes a blind spot in the middle of your field of vision.Regular eye examinations and early diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases can help you preserve good vision throughout your life.