Presbyopia is a common type of vision disorder that occurs as you age, and can be easily identified during your annual comprehensive eye exam. It is often referred to as the aging eye condition. Presbyopia results in the inability to focus up close, a problem associated with refraction in the eye.
When people develop presbyopia, they find they need to hold books, magazines, newspapers, menus and other reading materials at arm's length in order to focus properly. When they perform near work, such as embroidery or handwriting, they may develop headaches, eye strain or feel fatigued.
You can't escape presbyopia, even if you've never had a vision problem before. Even people who are nearsighted will notice that their near vision blurs when they wear their usual eyeglasses or contact lenses to correct distance vision.
Presbyopia generally is believed to stem from a gradual thickening and loss of flexibility of the natural lens inside your eye. These age-related changes occur within the proteins in the lens, making the lens harder and less elastic over time. With less elasticity, the eye has a harder time focusing up close. Age-related changes also take place in the muscle fibers surrounding the lens.
The good news is that your eye doctor has a variety of solutions to help you see as you once did. There are generally five different options for treating presbyopia:
Eyeglasses with bifocal or progressive addition lenses (PALs) are the most common correction for presbyopia. Bifocal means two points of focus: the main part of the spectacle lens contains a prescription for distance vision, while the lower portion of the lens holds the stronger near prescription for close work. Progressive addition lenses offer a more gradual visual transition between the two prescriptions, with no visible line between them.
Presbyopes also can opt for multifocal contact lenses as well. Multifocal contact lenses are designed to allow different lens powers that target vision at varying distances from the wearer. Multifocal contact lenses are contact lenses with multiple prescriptions all in one lens. There is typically a prescription for very close objects: one prescription for normal objects viewed at a distance, and then prescriptions for intermediate distances.
Reading glasses are another choice. Unlike bifocals and PALs, which most people wear all day, reading glasses typically are worn just during close work. If you wear contact lenses, your eye doctor can prescribe reading glasses that you wear while your contacts are in. You may purchase readers over-the-counter at a retail store, or you can get higher-quality versions prescribed by your eye doctor.
Another type of contact lens correction for presbyopia is monovision, in which one eye wears a distance prescription, and the other wears a prescription for near vision. The brain learns to favor one eye or the other for different tasks.
Surgical options to treat presbyopia also are available. These range from corneal inlays to laser surgery procedures that correct presbyopia. Many are current undergoing clinical trials in the U.S. so you should discuss your options with your eye doctor.
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