Most of us will experience some effects of presbyopia as we age. It's a normal part of the ageing process and presbyopic symptoms develop gradually as we get older. Most people start to notice changes to their close vision from around the age of 40. In fact, the term presbyopia actually derives from a Greek word meaning “old eye”.
As a common condition, it’s nothing to worry about, and it’s easy to work presbyopia around your lifestyle. Most people with presbyopia wear reading glasses, multifocal contact lenses or a combination of both to correct their vision — depending on which they prefer.
What is presbyopia?
Presbyopia is the gradual loss of your eyes' ability to focus on objects up-close. It's a natural part of aging which usually becomes noticeable in your early to mid-40s and continues to worsen until around age 65. If you experience presbyopia, your optician will check your vision to assess whether you are ’presbyopic’, just as they would if you were short-sighted or ‘myopic’.
What causes presbyopia?
To focus light onto the retina at the back of the eye to form an image, your eye relies on two essential parts — the cornea and the lens. The closer the object, the more the lens flexes. When you look at something at a distance, the circular muscle around the cornea relaxes. When you look at something nearby, the muscle constricts, allowing the relatively elastic lens to curve and change its focusing power.
In younger eyes with no vision problems, the lens is usually softer and therefore easier to curve and flex. But as we grow older, the lens can harden. Presbyopia is caused by this hardening of the lens of your eye, which is a natural part of the ageing process. As your lens becomes less flexible, it becomes more difficult to change shape in order to focus on close-up objects, which in turn affects your vision.
So, even if you have never needed glasses, you might find that you need to begin wearing glasses later in life for close-up tasks such as reading, looking at your phone, or even driving.
Read more about why your eyesight gets worse as you get older here.
What are the symptoms of presbyopia?
Have you started to notice that text is getting harder to read? Do you have trouble seeing clearly when using your phone or laptop, or when you're doing work up close? You may be experiencing the first signs of presbyopia. It's perfectly normal, and most of us start to experience it around the age of 40.
Common symptoms of presbyopia are:
- Having difficulty reading small print
- Needing to hold reading material at an arm’s distance to focus properly on it
- Experiencing blurry vision at normal reading distance (approx. 35 cm)
- Having eye strain or headaches after reading or doing close work
- Needing brighter lighting when reading or doing close work
- Overall problems seeing and focusing on objects that are close to you
- Squinting to bring objects into focus
- Blurry vision up-close
It’s fairly easy to recognise the signs and symptoms of presbyopia. You’ll find it starts to get difficult doing close-up tasks, like reading or sewing. The further you hold something from you, the clearer it gets.
There are a variety of ways to correct presbyopia. Talk to your optician, who can help decide the best option for you.
Glasses for presbyopia
If you don't already wear glasses, it may be that all you need is a pair of prescription reading glasses to improve your vision for close-up tasks. Or, if you already wear glasses, you could benefit from varifocal or multifocal lenses, which combine close, middle and distance vision into one pair of glasses.
Contact lenses for presbyopia
Glasses aren't the only treatment for presbyopia — some people prefer contact lenses. If you already wear contact lenses, multifocal contact lenses could be right for you. They’re designed to accommodate for varying vision types in one lens (near, mid-range and distance) just like a pair of varifocal glasses would.
If wearing glasses or contact lenses isn't right for you, then lens surgery to correct presbyopia may also be an option. During the surgery, the natural eye lens is removed, and a multifocal lens implant is inserted in its place. Think of multifocal lens implants like permanent varifocal glasses or contact lenses.
There are also laser-based techniques that operate on the cornea to give some additional near focus in one eye. Presbyopia surgery is not usually available on the NHS however, so patients will often seek out a private practice for this procedure.
Many people are interested to know whether eye exercises can help combat presbyopia. While eye exercises can never reverse any progressive vision changes, if practised carefully and regularly, certain exercises may be able to help delay the onset of some conditions for certain people and reduce symptoms of digital eye strain.
For instance, convergence exercises may help to avoid convergence insufficiency, a condition that occurs from the weakening of your eye muscles, making it difficult to focus both eyes on a close-range object.
Noticed a recent change in your vision?
Adults aged 40-55 are more likely to feel the effects of presbyopia. It’s nothing to worry about, and it’s easy to work presbyopia around your lifestyle. With symptoms ranging from blurry vision and eye strain to headaches — it’s best to have your eyesight checked by an optician if you have any concerns.