Ageing and your eyes
Ageing can affect eyesight and cause some eye conditions to worsen. This page will outline common issues that people experience as part of the normal eye ageing process and how to know if changes are due to age or something more serious.
Common conditions of ageing eyes
Ageing eyes can develop eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Early detection of these problems can help slow deterioration and maintain sight, so it’s important to attend regular eye tests to maintain good vision as you age.
Signs of ageing eyes
As part of normal ageing, the natural lenses in our eyes become more rigid over time, in a condition known as presbyopia. As a result, many older adults have difficulty focusing on close objects and need reading glasses as they age.
Other eye issues are more common as we age, including dry or watery eyes.
At what age do you get a free eye test?
You can get a free NHS eye test if:
- You're 60 or over
- You're 40 or above and have a close family history of glaucoma
- You're under 16
- You're 16, 17 or 18 and in full-time education
- You've been diagnosed with glaucoma
- You have diabetes
People with diabetes are eligible for free regular eye exams at any age as part of the Diabetic Screening Programme. You also qualify for free eye examinations if you have vision loss of any kind, including glaucoma.
Does eye colour change with age?
In most cases, eye colour does not change due to age. However, some age-related conditions, change the appearance of the eyes. For example, cataracts involve clouding of the lens which can make the pupil appear whiter. A true eye colour change can indicate a more serious problem, so it’s always best to get it checked out by an eye doctor.
Do eyes grow with age?
Once we reach adulthood, our eyes do not grow bigger with age, but the crystalline lens inside the eye does keep on growing and as a result becomes more dense. This alters its ability to change shape and focus (presbyopia) and also contributes to cataract formation.
The size and growth of an eyeball vary depending upon age:
- Newborn baby – 16.5mm diameter.
- Birth to two years – the eyes start to grow.
- During puberty – the eyes continue to grow.
- By age 20 – the eyes are fully grown at 24mm diameter.
- Old age – the eyes remain the same size.
Frequently asked questions
Advancing age is one of the risk factors for developing more severe eye conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. See your doctor or optometrist if you experience changes to your central or peripheral vision, flashes of light, pain, or anything else that concerns you.
Regular comprehensive eye exams and good healthcare and eye care throughout life can all help you maintain healthy eyes as you age.
Medically reviewed by: The Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 06/09/2022
Edited by: Nick Astbury FRCS FRCOphth FRCP
Clinical Associate Professor
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists champions excellence in the practice of ophthalmology and is the only professional membership body for medically qualified ophthalmologists. The RCOphth is unable to offer direct advice to patients. If you’re concerned about the health of your eyes, you should seek medical advice from your GP, optometrist or ophthalmologist.