Presbyopia

Presbyopia is a normal aging condition where the lens of the eye loses its ability to focus.  The lens is the part of the eye that works with the cornea to focus light on the retina.  When the lens, cornea and retina work together correctly, the result is a clear, sharp image.  Presbyopia is a term used to describe an eye in which the natural lens can no longer accommodate.

Accommodation is the eye’s way of changing its focusing distance: the lens thickens, increasing its ability to focus close-up.  From the day we are born, our ability to focus up close starts to diminish.  At about the age of 40, the lens becomes less flexible and accommodation is gradually lost.  It’s a normal process that everyone eventually experiences.

Causes
Presbyopia is a natural part of aging and affects everyone eventually.  As the eye ages, the elasticity of the lens decreases and the lens itself may thicken.  The ciliary muscles that hold the lens in place also decrease in elasticity.  These changes are believed to cause trouble with near vision.

Onset and Treatment
Presbyopia will affect everyone.  Usually noticeable by age 40-45, the eyes’ ability to focus decreases gradually.  Even if the patient has never had any vision problems previously, they will develop presbyopia.  Nearsighted people also develop presbyopia, even though they are used to having good near vision.  A nearsighted person may find they need to hold a newspaper or tablet at arm’s length to see it, just like any other person developing presbyopia.

Treatment
Reading glasses, bifocals or progressive lenses.  Some people are concerned that wearing reading glasses will weaken the eyes.  Because the process is continuous, our need for reading glasses will increase whether we wear them or not and whether we like it or not.  The reading glasses do not weaken our eyes.

Diagnosis
A diagnosis of presbyopia can be made during the course of a comprehensive eye exam.  A machine called a phoropter allows the doctor to show a series of lenses to a patient, switching back and forth between them to determine the best fit for corrective lenses.  Because the lens of the eye is slowly changing over time, periodic examinations are needed to update corrective lenses.

Prevention
Since it is a natural part of the aging process and not a disease, there are no preventative measures for presbyopia.  Maintaining overall health as a means to eye health is always recommended.  Taking frequent breaks while doing close work allows the ocular muscles to unwind. Try looking off into the distance every ten minutes or so to keep your eyes relaxed.  Wearing sunglasses to prevent UV damage to the eyes helps keep vision sharp later in life.

When to see an eye care professional
If you are over forty and developing headaches after doing close work, or experiencing eye strain after reading, see your optometrist or ophthalmologist for a checkup.  Always see an eye care professional immediately if you have any sudden changes in vision.  This includes darkening around the edges of your vision, dark spots in front of your eyes, halos around bright lights, a loss of vision in one part of your field of sight or any other noticeable change.