We often associate the need for reading glasses with growing old. Have you ever wondered why that is? As we age, we develop a condition called presbyopia, a common refractive error. Understanding presbyopia can help familiarize you with how your eyes change as you get older.
Presbyopia is a refractive error. That means it is a structural condition that causes the light to refract incorrectly in the eye, affecting vision.
As you age, your eye’s natural lens starts to thicken and become stiff. With less flexibility, the eye has a harder time focusing on objects that are close-up. Rather than focusing light directly onto the retina, a presbyopic eye focuses light on a point behind the retina; making close objects appear blurry.
Farsightedness (also known as hyperopia) also results from light focusing on a point behind the retina. The difference is the structural cause of the refractive error. Hyperopia occurs because the eyeball is too short in proportion to the curvature of the cornea. Everyone from children to adults can experience hyperopia, while presbyopia only develops as a result of the aging process.
Unfortunately, presbyopia doesn’t discriminate. It’s not uncommon for nearsighted (or myopic) patients to experience presbyopia as well. There are a number of solutions available to correct both refractive errors (that’s what bifocals are for!) Progressive lenses offer correction for both near vision and far vision without any harsh lines. Multifocal contact lenses are another great option.
Presbyopia is a natural part of the aging process and affects everyone eventually. Even patients who’ve never had vision problems before can start to notice the effects of presbyopia around age 40.
Most people choose to correct presbyopia with reading glasses. If you have other vision problems, you may find bifocals or progressives to be right for you, allowing you to use one pair of glasses to see clearly, rather than switching between two pairs for close work and far work.
Multifocal contact lenses are an excellent option because they offer different levels of correction within a single lens in sort of a gradient pattern. Your optometrist can explain the potential benefits of multifocal lenses in a contact lens exam.