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Age-related eye diseases and conditions

In our last Gazette post, “What is “normal” eye health?”, we mentioned a few eye diseases and conditions that we are at a higher risk of developing as we get older. These include: age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic eye disease, glaucoma, and dry eye.

While as you get older you are more likely to develop one of these conditions, it does not mean you definitely will. You can live an active life, maintaining your eye sight well into your latter years without experiencing severe vision loss. The best thing to do is make sure you have regular vision tests. Many eye diseases have no early warning signs or symptoms, but a dilated exam can detect eye diseases in their early stages before vision loss occurs. Early detection and treatment can help you save your sight. Even if you aren’t experiencing any vision problems, visit your eye care professional for a dilated eye exam. He or she will tell you how often you need to have one depending on your specific risk factors. Take a read of the eye diseases and conditions we are at a higher risk of developing as we age:

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

There are two forms of macular degeneration commonly termed wet form (exudative) and dry form (nonexudative) both of which tend to occur in people aged more than 50 years. Dry MD is more common than wet and results in a gradual loss of central vision. Dry MD may progress to the wet form over time.

Symptoms: Gradual loss of central vision.

Risk Factors: Age, hyperopia, family history, smoking.

Treatment: The wet form can be treated with laser photocoagulation or with intraocular injections. There is currently no treatment for the dry form.  There is some evidence that a healthy diet high in green leafy vegetables and fish is helpful in retarding advancement of the disease.


A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye. Vision with cataract can appear cloudy or blurry, colors may seem faded and you may notice a lot of glare.

Symptoms: Even mild cataract can cause reduced vision and when the lens becomes more opaque vision may be severely reduced.

Risk Factors: Age; having diabetes; trauma

Treatment: Surgical removal of cataracts is a relatively simple procedure in most cases.

Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease is a complication of diabetes and a leading cause of blindness. The most common form is diabetic retinopathy which occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels inside the retina.

Symptoms:  Damage to the retina as a consequence of diabetes may occur before symptoms are noticed.  In later stages of diabetic eye disease reduced vision may be experienced.

Risk Factors:  Poor HbA1c control; dyslipidaemia; length of time since onset of diabetes.

Treatment: Sight-threatening retinopathy and maculopathy can often be treated by laser and in some cases by intraocular injection of drugs.


Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness. It is usually associated with high pressure in the eye and affects side or peripheral vision.

Primary Open Angle Glaucoma

Symptoms:  Usually there are no symptoms until late stages of the disease.  First awareness is usually decreased peripheral vision and in some case decreased central vision.

Risk Factors: Glaucoma in a family member; family history of blindness or visual loss from diabetes or hypertension; high myopia; age.

Treatment: This is aimed at reducing intra-ocular pressure to levels below those at which damage occurred.

Low Tension Glaucoma

Symptoms: It is possible that a person with low tension glaucoma may notice a visual field defect and this would certainly be obvious from the results of a visual fields test at the optometrist clinic.

Treatment: This is aimed at reducing intra-ocular pressure to levels below those at which damage occurred.

Angle-Recession Glaucoma

Symptoms: None are usually noticed until late stages when loss of visual field or visual acuity may be experienced.

Risk Factors: Eye trauma.

Treatment: This is aimed at reducing intra-ocular pressure to levels below those at which damage occurred.

Inflammatory Open-Angle Glaucoma

Symptoms: Pain, sensitivity to light, decreased vision.

Treatment: Normally treated with steroids, mydriatic / cycloplegic, and pressure lowering agents.

Steroid-Response Glaucoma

Increased intraocular pressure as a result of steroid use may develop within a few days or a few months after starting steroid use.  Pressure normally returns to normal after steroids are discontinued.  Anti-glaucoma treatment may be necessary and care should be taken to taper steroid use when discontinuing.

Pigmentary Glaucoma

Symptoms: In some cases there will be no symptoms while other people may notice blurred vision, eye pain, and coloured halos around lights after exercise.

Treatment: Treatment will depend on a number of factors in the presentation of the disease including intraocular pressure, visual field changes, and extent of the symptoms.

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Symptoms: Eye pain, blurry vision, halos around lights, frontal headache, nausea and vomiting.

This is a medical emergency and urgent medical care should be sought.

Neovascular Glaucoma

Symptoms: Some people will have no symptoms while others may have reduced vision, eye pain, redness of the affected eye, and sensitivity to light,

Dry Eye

Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. Dry eye can make it more difficult to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period of time.

Symptoms: Irritation in the eye with a burning itch or feeling that something is in the eye ; often the eye will water excessively especially in wind, heat or low humidity.  Usually affects both eyes.

Treatment: Artificial tear preparations and lubricating agents.


Think you could do with an eye test? To find your local optometrist on Eldernet, click here!

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.