40 is the new 30, isn’t it? And why not, with all of the positive lifestyle choices you continually incorporate into your daily life? You look and feel good, bringing vitality to every task you take on. So when it comes to aging gracefully, there’s no reason to leave out your eye health. It’s common to experience changes in your vision starting around the age of 40. But with a little bit of self-awareness, some tweaks to your lifestyle and an annual eye exam, these changes need not lead to poor vision long-term.
Aging eyes: Why your eyes and eyesight change over time
No matter how well-oiled or high-quality the machine, the inevitable occurs over time: parts wear down with regular use, becoming less and less effective until they eventually need to be replaced. A similar process can be seen as we age. While many environmental factors and individual behaviors influence the “wear and tear” on your eyes, some changes are genetic or just occur naturally as a result of passing time.
For example, many adults experience changes to their lenses after the age of 40. But other personal choices, like smoking, may contribute to vision problems.
The most common eye problems after 40
Presbyopia: Don’t worry, it’s not as complex or scientific as it sounds. It is quite simply, the loss of the ability to clearly see objects close up. Starting at the age of 40, almost everybody begins to experience changes to their vision, primarily because the lenses of our eyes tend to harden over time.
Eye lenses are responsible for focusing the light that enters your eyes onto the back of the retina for processing of a clear image by your brain. As your eyes age, though, the lenses slowly lose their ability to actively change shape and focus the light as it passes through them. This leads to a blurring of objects nearby, especially small text — on screens, in books, in menus, and so on.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to prevent or halt this process and it will likely worsen over time. Thankfully, though, there are a wide variety of methods to correct your vision and maintain the clear near-vision you enjoyed when you were younger.
For example, in the early stages of presbyopia, basic reading glasses can often correct one’s vision. However, over time, you may need prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses or to change your existing prescription more frequently. Your VSP vision insurance plan will help cover the costs of any prescription eyeglasses or contacts.
Cataracts—Not everyone develops cataracts as they age, but they become more common as you get older. That’s because, starting at age 40, the proteins within your lenses slowly begin to break down and then clump together. A cataract is the name for the gradual cloudiness that results in your lens over time. If severe enough, cataracts eventually lead to vision loss and, in some extreme cases, even blindness.
Blindness due to cataracts is preventable and even curable. The lenses in your eyes can be replaced with artificial ones, should your vision and overall wellbeing ever be at great enough risk.
Most people develop cataracts to at least some degree, by the time they turn 80. This is simply a natural part of aging eyes. But the most important risk factors for developing cataracts are environmental.
Consuming a healthy diet rich in vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals can help prevent cataracts. It is also important to avoid excessive exposure to radiation, especially UV rays from the sun. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses throughout your life is a great preventative measure. Finally, avoiding smoking cigarettes can also help reduce your risk of developing cataracts after you turn 40.
Other common age-related diseases—If you are in your 40s, you may also experience things like reduced tear production (dry eye), spots and floaters, reduced pupil size or decreased color-vision. These are also common as eyes age, but will not typically cause too much trouble, especially when simple fixes — like using simple OTC eyedrops or giving yourself increased lighting while reading — will help.
Look out! Less common, but more severe, age-related eye diseases to keep in your periphery
Glaucoma: When your eyes’ internal eye pressure is abnormally high, the optic nerve at the back of the eye is progressively damaged. Your optic nerve is the main transmitter of the visual information that your brain receives. With time, this high internal pressure leads to irreversible vision losses, starting with your peripheral (side) vision. There are typically no symptoms and the risk for glaucoma increases with each passing decade, starting at age 40. Identification early on is the only way to prevent long-term damage.
Age-related macular degeneration: AMD, as it’s abbreviated, is a gradual decline in your central vision, due to aging and other risk factors. The macula is the part of the retina responsible for this type of vision. If you have a family history of AMD, are Caucasian, or smoke, then you are at an increased risk for AMD. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle help prevent and slow the development of AMD, even if you’re at a higher risk due to your family history. Although it’s a leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50, if it is diagnosed early on, then vision loss.
Diabetic retinopathy: Consistently high blood sugar causes inflammation in the retina, the light-sensitive area at the back of the eye. If you do not manage your diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or other similar chronic health problems, then this inflammation can lead to permanent vision losses over time. The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that about 40% of all diabetics over the age of 40 have some level of diabetic retinopathy. So, if you have diabetes or a similar condition, you should consult with your regular doctor and your eye doctor to prevent long-term damage to your eyes.
Torn or detached retina: While some spots, floaters, and occasional flashes are normal and to be expected, if you suddenly experience a barrage of these symptoms, then contact your optometrist at once. This could be the sign of a torn or detached retina. If not treated immediately, it could lead to permanent vision loss. While this is not extremely common, it does occur more frequently in individuals as they age.
Visual silver lining and silver bullet: The almighty eye exam
While not all eye problems after 40 are preventable, identifying them early can help prevent, cure or mitigate them from developing further. So the ultimate conclusion is simple: see your eye doctor regularly to get your eyes checked. That means scheduling an eye exam at least once per year with your optometrist, especially after the age of 40.
If you have VSP vision insurance, then this is a no-brainer, since one annual eye exam is always covered by your plan. All you need to do is make the appointment. If, after your first consultation, he or she advises a different interval for check-ups, then adjust accordingly. They’ll know what’s best to monitor the health of your eyes, especially if they diagnose one of the conditions mentioned in this article.
If you don’t have vision insurance, find out how VSP Vision Plans can help you save on your next eye exam or pair of glasses. To discover the best vision insurance, you don’t need to look further than VSP.
Information received through VSP Vision Care's social media channels is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, medical recommendations, diagnosis or treatment.