When we reach our forties, we may notice we’re holding newspapers and books farther away than we used to. We just can’t make out the letters close up. It’s particularly apparent when we’ve been looking at something in the distance and now, we’re trying to see up close.

In addition, our eyes might tire easily when we do close work, and there can be headaches. The problems are usually worse in poor light.

These are signs of presbyopia, a natural if annoying part of aging. The word comes from the Greek and means “old eye,” and the phenomenon starts in the 40s and gradually gets worse until about age 65.

What is Presbyopia?

Every time we switch between seeing near and seeing far the lens of the eye has to change shape. When we’re young and the lens is soft and flexible, that’s not a problem. As we move into middle age, though, the lens loses its elasticity. The muscle surrounding it doesn’t expand and contract well enough to bring close objects into focus. This condition is called presbyopia, commonly referred to as age-related farsightedness.

Sometimes this seems to happen overnight: we pick up the newspaper one morning and the print is fuzzy. In actuality, it’s a gradual process that’s taken place over a period of years. By the time we notice it the lens has already lost flexibility.

With presbyopia it doesn’t matter whether you’ve had vision problems in the past. It affects people who’ve never worn glasses, and it also complicates vision for folks who already have myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) or astigmatism.

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Diagnosing Presbyopia

Every comprehensive exam at Kleiman Evangelista Eye Centers checks for presbyopia. Your optometrist will do a refractive evaluation to see how your eyes focus light on the retina at various distances. They’ll check your visual acuity to determine if you see sharply and clearly at all those distances. They’ll evaluate the coordination of your eyes as well as their muscle control and how well they change focus.

Presbyopia Treatment

Over the years, the most common treatment for presbyopia has been bifocals. Folks who haven’t needed glasses sometimes buy “cheaters” from the corner drugstore and use them only for close work. it’s not the easiest thing in the world, however, to always have those glasses handy when they’re needed.

For those who’ve never worn glasses, spectacles may be uncomfortable or inconvenient. There are several solutions available with contacts lenses. A monovision prescription uses one eye for distance viewing and the other for close work. Multifocals are more like the contact equivalent of bifocals, with circular near and distance areas in each lens. There are also surgical solutions, including monovision.