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Exactly When Does Vision Stop Changing

Exactly When Does Vision Stop Changing

It seems like you need to get a new pair of glasses just about every year. Will you ever just be good for the rest of your life? The quick answer is that your vision will never stop changing. But of course there is more to that answer. At some point, almost everyone will have a stable prescription and feel like their eyes aren't changing.

For most people, vision “stops changing” at the end of childhood around the age of 16. But that won't last forever. The next significant change happens during the 40s where it becomes more difficult to read up close. And eventually cataracts develop which again will affect the vision.

These are the main events that one will experience during their lifetime which will affect their vision. But that's not all. There are also a few other situations where change can be noted.

When Your Vision Mostly Stops Changing

Our vision changes quite a bit when we are children. After-all, we grow quite a bit in general as children. And as we grow, our vision changes as well.

This is because the prescription of our eyes is made up of relatively few anatomical factors. Light enters our cornea and lens and is focused onto the retina in the back of the eye.

Light focusing in the eye

Light focusing in the eye; image by User:X-romix, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The distance between the cornea and the retina (the overall length of the eye) and the overall shape and curvature of the cornea are the two main factors which determine the prescription of the eye. The lens, while it is involved in the process, doesn't really become a factor until later in life (more on that down below).

The biggest change as you grow and as your vision develops is that the length of the eye increases. As the length of the eye increases, the prescription of your eye changes.

Ideally, the length of the eye increases just enough so that vision is focused perfectly in the eye. But of course, this isn't always the case.

Genetics plays a large role in your prescription. If your parents are nearsighted, there is a good chance you will be nearsighted too.

But beyond genetics, our environment also influences our prescription as our eyes are developing. Spending more time on up close activities increases the risk of becoming nearsighted. Even limited time outdoors has been linked to the prescription of the eye changing.

But eventually the eye stops growing and the prescription stabilizes. This occurs on average around the age of 16. This is when the vision mostly stops changing.

But don't close this chapter quite yet.

So What Happens Beyond That?

Vision can continue to change.

As mentioned, spending more time on up close activities increases the risk of becoming nearsighted. Some people just can't avoid up close activities such as book-work as they continue throughout their schooling years. This especially includes law students, engineers and medical students. High amounts of intense study can increase the risk of the nearsightedness continuing to progress in your 20s. (see also The Reasons Behind Eyesight Getting Worse in 20s)

Beyond that, you are good for a few more decades. Finally you can go years and years without noticing any change in your vision! While not impossible for the vision to change on its own, it is much less common.

That is until you hit your mid 40s

Enter Presbyopia

Starting in your mid 40s is where the vision starts to change quite a bit.

Remember that lens we talked about? The one that didn't have much of an effect on the prescription of the eye? Suddenly this lens starts to become very important to vision.

Your whole life before the mid 40s, this lens was able to flex. If you needed to look at something up close (while wearing your glasses or contact lenses if needed), this lens flexed in order to allow you to see that up close object.

How the eye focuses up close

How the eye focuses up close, image by MikeRun, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But this flexibility of the lens doesn't last forever.

Starting in 40s, this lens starts to become less flexible. As this lens becomes less flexible it has a harder time focusing up close. At first you can push things a little farther away to read. But eventually even that can't get you by and you are forced to use reading glasses or progressive glasses in order to read.

This is called presbyopia [pres·bee·oh·pee·uh]; its one of the biggest changes in our vision that we notice in our lifetime.

Shift to being more farsighted

If the difficulty reading up close wasn't enough, the prescription of the eye can also shift a little during your 40s and 50s. The eye becomes slightly more farsighted. It's not much (about +0.50 of prescription per decade), but it adds up and becomes significant.

Someone who is farsighted can see better off in the distance than up close. Because of this, many young farsighted people walk around unaware that they are farsighted. Why? Because the natural lens is able to focus through their farsighted prescription and give them good vision.

But presbyopia and the reduced flexibility of the lens makes it harder to focus through both the farsighted prescription and see up close. These farsighted individuals thus notice the effects of presbyopia at an earlier age than others. Once the lens loses enough flexibility where it can no longer focus through the far-sighted prescription, vision becomes blurry for the distance as well.

So between the presbyopia getting worse with time and the farsightedness getting worse as well, vision can really fall off for both up close and distance vision making glasses a full-time necessity.

Back to the lens - cataracts are forming

Once you get through your 50s, instead of being in the clear, another major change occurs in life. The lens that became inflexible also starts to become cloudy as well. This leads to the lens becoming a cataract. As this lens becomes a cataract two things start to happen.

The first (and the most obvious) is that the vision progressively becomes more blurry. But cataracts can cause more than just blurry vision. Cataracts can also cause:

  • Glare with lights, especially noticed at nighttime
  • Reduced ability to see things in low light settings
  • Impaired color perception (often only noticed once the cataracts are removed)
  • Sometimes double vision

(see also Your Comprehensive Handbook To Learn What Are Cataracts)

From your 60s and up (and sometimes starting earlier in life), your vision will progressively worsen from cataracts. Getting an updated pair of glasses won't be able to correct this vision.

But the second effect of cataracts is that they will actually change your prescription as well. As the cataract worsens, the cataract will cause your vision to become slightly more nearsighted.

Some people will even label this as “second-sight” since it can help some people read without their reading glasses.

So not only will the blurriness cataract make it more difficult to see well with your glasses, the cataract will also change your prescription requiring more frequent updates in your glasses prescription.

And so eventually, you will need cataract surgery to fix the cataracts and restore your vision.

The good news after that? After cataract surgery there is nothing to significantly change your vision! (as long as your eyes stay healthy)

Medical Reasons your vision can change

All of these changes in your vision over your lifetime assume that the eye remains perfectly healthy. But unfortunately that won't be the case for everyone. Many eye conditions will cause your vision to change. And thus, it is important to visit an eye doctor for any change to your vision.

Summary

Vision in the eye never truly stops changing. While in your younger years, you can go long stretches without any noticeable change in your vision, eventually once you hit your 40s, you lose the ability to read up close and then eventually go on to get cataracts.

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