Presbyopia

Published: April 19, 2010

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What Is It?

Presbyopia is a degenerative condition that occurs when the eye loses the ability to focus. Typically, symptoms become prevalent when a person is in his or her mid-40s. Objects will be difficult to see when close and in low lights, and vision problems might be accompanied by eye pain, fatigue, and headaches. As a person ages, the condition will continue to worsen.

Presbyopia affects nearly everyone in their old age, and in most situations, symptoms are not a reason for concern. Regardless, medical attention is necessary since people will likely need contact lenses or glasses. Stronger prescriptions are required when the condition worsens.

If you start to notice that your vision is changing, you should see an ophthalmologist for diagnostic testing. You may need to wear contact lenses, glasses, or bifocals. You might also need an exam to rule out more serious conditions that cause vision changes, including cataracts and glaucoma.

You should also stay up to date with your regular physical exams. Certain medical conditions such as brain tumors and diabetes can cause your vision to change. While presbyopia is not related to these conditions, you should be on the safe side and have yourself evaluated for a range of medical conditions that could be causing changes to your vision. In most situations, your vision changes will not be related to a serious condition. Instead, your changes in vision will occur as a natural process of old age.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

The condition can affect one or both eyes at different rates. Beginning in your mid-'40s, you might notice that you have trouble reading text up close, especially in dim lighting. You'll experience headaches and fatigue, and your symptoms might improve when you hold the text or object further away. Symptoms will worsen over time. Eventually, your eyes will lose all ability to focus up close, and you will depend on reading glasses or contact lenses.

If you have presbyopia, your symptoms will not improve: you will need to see an ophthalmologist for corrective treatments that include glasses, contact lenses, and surgery. For the most part you should not worry, since presbyopia is a natural part of the aging process, and with glasses or contact lenses, your ability to read and see up close will improve.

You should see a doctor as soon as your vision changes since impaired vision can impact the quality of your life. You also want to be careful when you are reading important documents, especially legal notices and instructions for medications. Normally, a prescription change can help improve your vision relatively quickly.

Sometimes, more serious medical conditions can cause your vision to change. Examples include diabetes, glaucoma, and cataracts. If you notice that your vision is changing unusually quickly, or if you notice any pain, tingling, or weakness in your eyes, you should consult a doctor. If you notice that your eyes are becoming cloudy, you should see a specialist to have your condition assessed.

If you experience other symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, dry mouth, nausea, and heart palpitations, then your vision changes may indicate diabetes.

In general, presbyopia should only affect your ability to see close-up. Your distance vision should not change unless you have myopia, which is a separate vision problem.

Causes & Risk Factors

All people are at risk for presbyopia. It is a natural process that occurs with age. It is also normal for the condition to become worse over time. Over time, the lens becomes less and less elastic until all of the elasticity is gone. If you notice your vision degenerating, it is important that you determine whether you are at risk for other conditions like diabetes, glaucoma, or cataracts. Your family's medical history might provide some indication of whether you should undergo tests for more serious conditions.

Prevention & Treatment

There is no cure for presbyopia. It is impossible to reverse the process, and it is also impossible to prevent your eyesight from degenerating further. Over-the-counter and prescription reading glasses are available to help people read.

Tests & Diagnosis

Routine eye exams are necessary for diagnosing presbyopia. Once your vision begins to degenerate, it is important that you keep getting tested once a year. If your vision degenerates at an abnormal rate, you might have a more serious condition that requires additional refractive tests. Blood tests might also be necessary, especially if the doctor suspects diabetes.

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