Presbyopia: Bringing a vexing condition into focus

It can be said for many of us that after about the age of 40, life can get fuzzy. Or at least, life as we see it.

We mean that literally. Presbyopia, often referred to as fuzzy vison, is among the most common eye impairments. In fact, you can’t escape it: as a naturally occurring age-related condition, it afflicts everyone at some point, usually after the age of 40.1

Yet there are some misconceptions about presbyopia. A lot of people confuse it with farsightedness (hyperopia), for example, because it makes it harder to focus on nearby objects, particularly in the dark.

However, the cause of presbyopia is different. Let’s look behind the lens to learn more about its risk factors and treatment.

Presbyopia: So near, so unclear

If you have to hold a restaurant menu at arm’s length or can’t make out your appetizer in low light, you likely are living with presbyopia.

But why? You probably noticed that as you get older, your muscles become less flexible. Well, the same thing happens with your eyes. The lenses harden, making it difficult for your eyes to focus light from near objects directly on the retina (the layer of light-sensitive cells at the back of the eyeball). Instead, light focuses behind the retina. At the same time, the muscle fibers around the lenses grow less effective, making it harder to discern nearby objects, like menus or books.2

It’s the vision equivalent of touching your toes: When we’re younger, the lens of the eye is flexible and soft so those little muscles can more nimbly adjust our focus on objects both near and far.

What are the signs? The symptoms are pretty easy to spot. If you have trouble reading small print, reading in low light and/or focusing on objects that are close, you could be experiencing symptoms of presbyopia. Don’t assume they are signs of farsightedness — you can have both. In fact, some people with presbyopia are also nearsighted or have astigmatism, a curvature of the cornea that causes distorted vision.3, 4

Are there risk factors? Age is what puts us at the most risk of presbyopia. If you experience signs of presbyopia well before 40, it could indicate other health issues. Conditions such as anemia, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and multiple sclerosis put you at higher risk of premature presbyopia. Also, some drugs, including antidepressants, antihistamines and diuretics, can contribute to premature presbyopia.5

Untreated, presbyopia can cause headaches and eye fatigue. And it can be frustrating on a daily basis to have to shift reading materials and other objects for better light or distance. A celebration dinner at a candlelit table could be vexing.

Can it be corrected? Yes, and pretty easily. Eyeglasses — with reading, bifocal or multifocal lenses — will usually do the trick. (Multifocal lenses make it possible to see both near and far.) Multifocal contact lenses also can correct the problem, as well as monovision contacts, which treat your dominant eye for distance vision and your non-dominant eye for near vision.6, 7

Should I see a doctor? Absolutely. If you notice any change in your vision, you should schedule an appointment for a comprehensive exam. In fact, you should include eye exams in your annual preventative care regime, because an eye exam can help detect other health conditions, including diabetes.8

Don’t put it off until that next milestone birthday. Find an eye doctor today.


  1. “Presbyopia,” Healthline.com, https://www.healthline.com/health/presbyopia, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  2. “Information for Healthy Vision,” National Eye Institute, https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/presbyopia, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  3. Ibid. Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  4. “The Cure for the Common Vision Problem,” Eye Site on Wellness, http://www.eyesiteonwellness.com/the-cure-for-the-common-vision-problem/
  5. “Presbyopia,” Healthline.com, https://www.healthline.com/health/presbyopia, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  6. Information for Healthy Vision,” National Eye Institute, https://nei.nih.gov/healthyeyes/presbyopia, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  7. “Multifocal Contact Lenses,” by Gary Heiting, AllAboutVision.com, September 2017, https://www.allaboutvision.com/over40/multifocalcls.htm, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018
  8. “Diabetes Eye Exams,” Medline Plus, Aug. 7, 2016, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000323.htm, Accessed Dec. 7, 2018