What is presbyopia?

Presbyopia means having problems seeing objects clearly when they are up close. It is a Greek word that means “old eye,” because presbyopia is a common condition that increases with aging. After age 40, many people need to hold something at arm’s length in order to see it clearly. You may also have trouble with up-close tasks, such as threading a needle or reading.

What causes presbyopia?

Presbyopia is a normal part of aging. When you are young, your eyes’ lenses are soft and flexible. But as you age, the lenses become harder, and your eyes do not focus light on your retinas as well. Instead, light is focused behind the retina. In addition, the muscle fibers around each lens change with aging, impairing your eyes’ ability to focus on objects that are close.

How do I know if I have presbyopia?

People with presbyopia may notice that:

  • It is difficult reading small print.
  • They have problems seeing things close to them.
  • They may need to hold reading materials an arm’s length away.
  • They experience headaches and/or eye strain.

If you have any of these symptoms, contact an eye care professional for an eye examination. A comprehensive dilated eye examination is the best way to accurately assess your vision and determine if you need vision correction. Getting such an exam regularly after age 40 is also recommended so the doctor can check for other age-related eye problems.

Is presbyopia correctable?

If you learn you have presbyopia, your eye care professional will speak with you about options for improving your vision and what may work best for you. Your choices may include:

  • Eyeglasses, the safest and simplest way to correct vision challenges caused by presbyopia, which can help you see the world more clearly. Bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses have a higher focusing power in the lower portion of the lens so you can see close objects more clearly, while viewing objects farther away through another part of the lens. Some people find that reading glasses are helpful, and they don’t require a prescription. However, an eye exam can help you determine which reading glasses to buy.
  • Contact lenses are helpful for some people with presbyopia. There are specific types of contacts designed for people with presbyopia. However, some people are not comfortable with contact lenses. Talk with your eye care professional to see if they might be right for you.
  • Surgery helps some people with hyperopia by permanently changing the shape of the cornea. Such “refractive surgery” changes the shape of the eye so that light passing through is more finely focused, enhancing the clarity of your vision. For people with presbyopia, an ophthalmologist uses a laser to reshape the cornea for clear far vision in one eye and close-up vision in the other eye. Speak with your eye care professional to learn if surgery might be an option for you. Many people enjoy the freedom from glasses and contact lenses that refractive surgery may offer.