An age-old eye problem

An age-old eye problem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 11:10am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 July, 2014, 11:11am

It is just a simple fact of life. As we get older our eyes deteriorate and at some stage most of us will probably need help to correct our vision.

The onset of middle age is the most common time for problems to surface and they usually come in the shape of presbyopia or cataracts.

Presbyopia - which literally means "ageing eye" - is an age-related eye condition that makes it more difficult for people to see things close up.

A cataract is caused by clouding of the lens, which leads to a decrease in vision. It is the most common cause of blindness.

People often ask if it's a natural ageing process to develop presbyopia and cataracts, as older people often suffer from these two conditions.

What if you have both presbyopia and cataracts? What can be done to resolve these two problems at the same time? Are cataracts caused by presbyopia?

Many people are confronted by the problems of presbyopia and cataracts and fear that once they reach a certain age these conditions will surface.

The truth is presbyopia and cataracts have some correlation. Let's look at these problems one at a time.

First, we need to understand the root causes so that we can understand why this is so. Simply put, both presbyopia and cataract are caused by the deterioration of the lens. The difference is in the order of deterioration.

Surgery is the only effective method of treating cataract vision loss, although many get along using spectacles

When you are young, your lens is soft and flexible. The lens changes its shape easily, allowing you to focus on objects that are close or far away.

After about 40 years, the lens becomes more rigid. Because it can't change shape as easily as it once did, it becomes more difficult to read at close range.

People with presbyopia find it even more difficult to see or may see blurred images if the light is insufficient; this worsens with age. Nearly everyone develops presbyopia because it is a natural decline of the lens.

A cataract is also caused by this natural decline. It occurs when the lens becomes cloudy or opaque and stops light reaching the retina at the back of the eye.

There are other causes, but the condition is most commonly attributed to the process of ageing. Over time a pigment - usually yellow-brown - is deposited in the lens. When combined with the disruption to the lens fibres, this cuts the amount of light, leading to a loss of vision.

Cataract sufferers face difficulties when driving and reading. They also may find it hard to recognise faces, cope with the glare created by bright lights, and appreciate colours and changes in contrast.

Surgery is the only effective method of treating cataract vision loss, although many get along using spectacles, contact lenses, or other aids.

When the eye lenses begin to deteriorate and become rigid, the first problem that will surface is presbyopia, and if the lens becomes clouded, it will cause a cataract.

With technological advances in medicine, besides using spectacles to treat presbyopia and surgery to eradicate cataracts, there are procedures to get rid of cataract and at the same time correct myopia, farsightedness, astigmatism,and presbyopia.

Dr Marvin Tse is a Hong Kong-based ophthalmologist