Presbyopia: Bringing a vexing condition into focus

It can be said for many of us that after about the age of 40, life can get fuzzy. Or at least, life as we see it. We mean that literally. Presbyopia, referred to as fuzzy vision, is among the most common eye impairments. In fact, you can’t escape it: as a naturally occurring age-related condition, it afflicts everyone at some point, usually after the age of 40. Yet there are some misconceptions about presbyopia. A lot of people confuse it with being longsighted (hyperopia), for example, because it makes it harder to focus on nearby objects, particularly in the dark.

However, the cause of presbyopia is different. Let’s look behind the lens to learn more about its risk factors and treatment.

Presbyopia: So near, so unclear

If you have to hold a restaurant menu at arm’s length, you likely are living with presbyopia.

But why?

You probably noticed that as you get older, your muscles become less flexible. Well, the same thing happens with your eyes. The lenses harden, making it difficult for your eyes to focus light from near objects directly on the retina (the layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eyeball). Instead, light focuses behind the retina. At the same time, the muscle fibers around the lenses grow less effective, making it harder to discern nearby objects, like menus or books. It’s the vision equivalent of touching your toes: When we’re younger, the lens of the eye is flexible and soft so those little muscles can more nimbly adjust our focus on objects both near and far.

What are the signs?

The symptoms are pretty easy to spot. If you have trouble reading small print, reading in low light and/or focusing on objects that are close, you could be experiencing symptoms of presbyopia. Don’t assume they are signs of being longsighted — you can have both. In fact, some people with presbyopia are also nearsighted or have astigmatism, a curvature of the cornea that causes distorted vision.

Are there risk factors?

Age is what puts us at the most risk of presbyopia. If you experience signs of presbyopia well before 40, it could indicate other health issues. Conditions such as anemia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis put you at higher risk of premature presbyopia. Also, some drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines and diuretics, can contribute to premature presbyopia. Untreated, presbyopia can cause headaches and eye fatigue. And it can be frustrating on a daily basis to have to shift reading materials and other objects for better light or distance. A celebration dinner at a candlelit table could be vexing.

Can it be corrected?

Multifocal eyeglasses or contact lenses will usually do the trick. These digital hi-index lenses are very thin and lightweight, making for a comfortable fit while also boasting hi-definition clarity and a wider viewing area for the sharpest visual experience.

Should I see a doctor?

Absolutely. If you notice any change in your vision, you should schedule an appointment for a comprehensive exam. In fact, you should include eye exams in your annual preventative care regime, because an eye exam can help detect other health conditions, including diabetes.