Vision & Medicare: 10 Age-Related Eye Problems

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Aging comes with a lot of new responsibilities like maintaining your health. The list goes on with new health issues as we get older. Eyesight is one of the most common issues that are related to aging. Here are the top ten that you should keep an eye on.

Eyestrain

When your eyes get fatigued from overuse, such as staring at a computer, TV, or phone screen all day.

Symptoms: Soreness of the eyes; tired, burning, or itching eyes; watery or dry eyes; blurred or double vision; headache; sore neck, shoulders or back; increased sensitivity to light; difficulty concentrating; feeling that you cannot keep your eyes open; discomfort usually eases once you rest your eyes; blinking more often.

Treatment: following the 20-20-20 rule (for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Using lubricating eye drops can also help. Wear eyeglasses with blue light protection when looking at screens.

Dry Eye

It is extremely common for the production of tear production to decline after age 40. As a result, most people over the age of 65 experience some symptoms of dry eye.

Symptoms: Dryness can cause a stinging or burning sensation or gritty feeling in your eyes. 

Treatment: Over-the-counter eye drops can be helpful for mild dry eye; if symptoms are more serious, you may want to consult an ophthalmologist for treatment.

Floaters

These are the tiny specks, strings, and squiggles that appear in your eye. Oftentimes they are usually harmless. They can be caused by normal age-related changes in the vitreous, a gel-like fluid that fills the back of our eyes. If floater changes are minor or gradual, there is less cause for concern. 

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Symptoms: Spots in vision that look like black or gray specks or strings that drift across the eyes.

Treatment: The floaters increase in the number or in a sudden onset — see your eye doctor pronto. It could be a warning sign of something more serious, such as a detached retina.

Glaucoma

One of the leading causes of blindness in those over 60, glaucoma usually is the result of fluid not draining properly, leading to a build-up of pressure that can damage the optic nerve. Though painless, glaucoma can be vicious. Often referred to as the “silent thief of sight”, the disease more than not affects both eyes’ vision, though usually not at the same time. 

Symptoms: can cause a significant loss of peripheral vision and, with no intervention, total blindness. 

Treatment: Regular eye exams (typically every 6 months) are critical since blindness can be prevented with early treatment.

Macular Degeneration

As a leading cause of vision loss, macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans. This disease damages the macula, at the center of the retina, responsible for our straight-ahead vision and most of our color vision; as the disease progresses, it can cause blurred or wavy vision and eventually central vision loss. 

Symptoms: Gradual loss of vision 

Treatment: There is no known cure, but there are ways to lower your risk and, possibly, slow down the disease’s progression, including, maintaining a healthy diet, exercising, not smoking, and protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays.

Cataracts

Cataracts is the result of proteins in the lens beginning to break down as we age. cataracts can cause blurred or cloudy vision. You’re at higher risk if you are white (by age 80, 70 percent of whites have cataracts, compared to 53 percent of those of color, according to the National Institutes of Health); have diabetes; spent lots of time in the sun over the years; or use certain medications, such as corticosteroids. 

Symptoms: Blurred or cloudy vision may occur.

Treatment: When it interferes with everyday activities, your eye doctor may recommend surgery, which includes trading the clouded lens for an artificial one.

Diabetic retinopathy

This condition is found in those with type 1 or 2 diabetes. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when excess glucose damages the blood vessels in the retina. These damaged blood vessels can swell and leak blood and other fluids into the retina, causing cloudy vision, and sometimes floaters or blurriness. 

Symptoms: Experiencing increasingly worse dark spots or empty areas in your vision, or even vision loss. 

Treatment: Keeping your diabetes under control is the best way to preserve your sight.

Detached retina

This condition occurs when the retina separates from the eye. As we get older, the vitreous (the gel-like fluid in the center of our eye) undergoes a change in texture and shrinks, which oftentimes results in the retina becoming detached. It is not painful but is serious because the longer retinal detachment goes untreated, the greater your risk of permanent vision loss in the eye. 

Symptoms: The sudden appearance of many floaters and flashes, diminished vision, or the sensation of a shadowy curtain lowered over your eyes. 

Treatment: Contact an ophthalmologist as soon as you notice any of these symptoms suddenly.

Trichiasis

This condition is associated with aging. The eyelid skin loses elasticity as we age, which results in the eyelashes growing inward, toward the eye. Trichiasis can also develop because of an eye infection or a trauma to the eye.

Symptoms: The lashes can rub against the cornea or the conjunctiva (the thin inner surface of the lids), leading to irritation, such as redness and tearing, and light sensitivity or corneal abrasion. 

Treatment: Removing the lashes using a forceps-like device, an in-office procedure.

Blepharitis

This very common condition is when the rims of the eyelids become inflamed. Blepharitis is believed to be associated with bacteria on the eyelid or dandruff, and more common among people with certain skin conditions, such as seborrhoeic dermatitis and rosacea.

Symptoms: Swelling, redness, burning, soreness, stinging in the eyes, crusty lashes, and itchy lids.

Treatment: In many cases, it can be kept under control with daily washing near the lash line or addressing the underlying skin condition.

Medicare does NOT cover routine vision 

Medicare does not cover eye exams, glasses, or contact lenses. If you are diagnosed with cataracts, Medicare will pay for surgery and one pair of corrective lenses, but further routine vision care is not covered. 

Regular eye exams are even more important as you reach your senior years. The American Optometric Association recommends annual eye examinations for everyone over age 60.

Alternate Coverage: Medicare Advantage plans generally cover routine vision care as a benefit or as a supplemental coverage with an additional monthly premium. Based on where you live, vision discount plans at low to zero cost are also available. 

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