Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Age-related vision problems

Updated: 02-21-2013

Cataracts and other age-related vision problems

Illustration of the eye showing the lens, iris and pupil

As you age, so do your eyes. You might find that you have difficulty reading small print or that you need brighter lighting at your desk. In addition, eye diseases that could lead to more-serious vision problems become more common with age.

Consider cataracts. A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. Most cataracts develop slowly and don't disturb eyesight early on. At first, stronger lighting and eyeglasses can help you deal with cataracts. Eventually cataracts can interfere with your vision. Left untreated, cataracts can lead to blindness. However, even with advanced cataracts, vision can usually be restored with surgery.

Vision with cataracts

Photos depicting normal vision and vision with cataracts

If you have cataracts, you may notice:

  • Cloudy, blurry or dim vision
  • Difficulty seeing at night
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Fading or yellowing of colors

If you notice cloudy vision or other signs and symptoms of cataracts, make an appointment with your eye doctor. The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgery.

Glaucoma

Illustration of the eye showing the optic nerve and optic disk

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that are usually associated with abnormally high pressure inside the eye. This pressure can damage the millions of nerve fibers that carry visual information from your eye via the optic nerve to your brain. The optic disk is the point where the fibers from the retina meet before entering the optic nerve. As your optic nerve deteriorates, blind spots develop in your visual field. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to irreversible blindness.

Vision with glaucoma

Photos depicting vision with glaucoma

The most common type of glaucoma — primary open-angle glaucoma — causes tunnel vision and loss of side vision, but only in the advanced stages of the disease. Acute angle-closure glaucoma, which is less common but considered a medical emergency, causes severe eye pain and redness.

To detect glaucoma early, consult your eye doctor for regular eye exams. Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe eye pain or other signs and symptoms of glaucoma. Treatment options may include medication, laser therapy or surgery.

Macular degeneration

Illustration of the eye showing the macula and retina

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when tissue in the macula — the part of your retina that's responsible for the center of your visual field — deteriorates. This causes a blind spot to form in the center of your vision.

AMD is often described as wet or dry. Wet macular degeneration occurs when new blood vessels grow and leak fluid beneath the macula. Most cases of wet macular degeneration develop from the dry type of macular degeneration, which isn't accompanied by bleeding.

Vision with macular degeneration

Photos depicting normal vision and vision with macular degeneration

Depending on the type, age-related macular degeneration may cause:

  • Distortion of straight lines or printed words
  • A gradual haziness of your overall vision
  • A blind spot in the center of your visual field

If you notice changes in your central vision or other signs and symptoms of age-related macular degeneration, make an appointment with your eye doctor. There's no treatment to reverse dry macular degeneration, but a healthy diet and nutritional supplements may slow progression of the disease. Treatment options for wet macular degeneration may include medication, laser therapy or surgery.

Eye floaters

Illustration of the eye showing debris floating in the vitreous cavity

Your eyeball is filled with a jelly-like substance called vitreous humor. As you age, the vitreous can become more liquid than jelly-like. When this happens, microscopic fibers within the vitreous tend to clump together (see arrows). These clumps can cast tiny shadows on your retina, which you may see as spots and specks (floaters) in your field of vision.

Vision with eye floaters

Photos depicting normal vision and vision with floaters

Eye floaters look like black or gray specks, strings or cobwebs that drift about when you move your eyes.

Most eye floaters are harmless and don't require treatment. If you notice a sudden increase in the number of floaters — especially if they're accompanied by flashes of light or loss of your side vision — seek immediate medical attention. This might signal a retinal tear or retinal detachment.

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