Your Changing Eyes

Hold the book up close and the words appear blurred. Push the book farther away, and the words snap back into sharp focus.

That’s how most of us first recognize a condition that eye care professionals call presbyopia, a name derived from Greek words meaning “old eye.” Eye fatigue or headaches when doing close work, such as sewing, knitting or painting, are also common symptoms.


What causes presbyopia?

As we age, body tissues normally lose their elasticity. As skin ages, it becomes less elastic, and we develop wrinkles. Similarly, as the lenses in our eyes lose some of their elasticity, they lose some of their ability to change focus for different distances. The loss is gradual. Long before we become aware that seeing close up is becoming more difficult, the lenses in our eyes have begun losing their ability to change shape to help focus light rays. Only when the loss of elasticity impairs our vision to a noticeable degree do we recognize the change.


How does the loss of elasticity affect sight?

Our ability to “see” starts when light enters the eye through the cornea. The shape of the cornea, lens, and eyeball help bend (refract) light rays in such a manner that light is focused into a point precisely on the retina. The crystalline lens plays a key role in focusing light on the retina. When we are young, the lens is flexible. With the help of tiny ciliary muscles, it changes shape, or accommodates, for both near and distant objects by bending or flattening out to help focus light rays. As we age, the lens becomes stiffer. Changing shape becomes more difficult. Not only does focusing on near objects become more difficult, the eye also is unable to adjust as quickly to rapid changes in focus on near and distant objects.


When does it occur?

The flexibility of the lens begins to decrease in youth. The age at which presbyopia is first noticed varies, but it usually begins to interfere with near vision in the early 40’s. Presbyopia affects everyone and there is no known prevention for it.


How is the problem diagnosed?

An accurate, thorough description of symptoms and a comprehensive eye health examination, including a testing of the quality of your near vision, are necessary to diagnose presbyopia.


How is presbyopia treated?

Traditionally, eye care professionals prescribe bifocal spectacles or reading glasses to help the eye accommodate for close-up work. However, soft contact lenses are rapidly increasing in popularity as an exciting new alternative for people with presbyopia. Laser surgery may also be an option for some patients.


Once my vision is corrected for presbyopia, will I require frequent lens changes?

Presbyopia is a gradual change, happening over a number of years so your prescription will need to be updated periodically. Changes are best made at your regular eye examination rather than after the need for change starts to cause you difficulties.