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What Causes Glassy Eyes in the Elderly?

Have you ever noticed that your senior loved one’s eyes appear to be glazed over? They could be staring blankly, seem as though they are distracted, or even have a literal glaze over their eyes. Generally known as glassy eyes, it can affect anyone at any age but is more commonly seen in the elderly.

What Causes Glassy Eyes in the Elderly?

Glassy eyes can be caused by a variety of eye conditions, health issues, or drug use. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Alcohol or drug use. Intoxication from alcohol or marijuana can cause the eyes to appear glassy.

  • Prescription medication. A side effect from some medications may be a glassy appearance of the eyes.

  • Allergies. Allergens like pollen or pet dander can cause the eyes to become red, itchy, and watery, leading to a glassy look.

  • Dehydration. Dehydration can cause the eyes to dry out and appear glassy.

  • Eye strain. The most common type of eye strain that leads to glassy eyes is overuse of a computer, mobile phone, or other digital device.

  • Dry eye. It may seem counterintuitive, but dry eye can actually cause the eyes to appear glassy or glazed over.

  • Eye infection. Conjunctivitis (more commonly known as pink eye) will often cause the eyes to look glassy and watery. Some other eye infections can cause this look as well.

  • Thyroid eye disease. Also known as Graves eye disease, thyroid eye syndrome is caused by an overactive thyroid. The eyes may appear glassy, be sensitive to light or feel constantly gritty, or may just have pain.

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What is the Treatment for Glassy Eyes?

Treating glazed eyes in elderly adults depends on the underlying cause. An eye doctor can help determine the cause and identify a course of treatment.

The following suggestions provide recommendations on how to treat or ease glassy eye conditions.

  • Limit or eliminate alcohol or drug use. In addition to improving glassy eye conditions, you will likely see other health benefits.

  • Review medication side effects with your prescriber. Doctors may be able to offer an alternative, but equally effective, medication that does not cause glassy eyes.

  • Stay hydrated. Proper hydration has many health benefits and may help mitigate glassy eyes. Don’t overlook medications that may increase dehydration.

  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule when using screen devices. For every 20 minutes you look at a screen, stare at a point at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Make sure your devices are set to medium brightness and don’t read or use your device with a bright screen in a dark room.

  • Use eye drops or artificial tears to keep eyes moist. Look for drops that don’t have preservatives, as they can irritate the eye.

  • Practice good hygiene to help avoid infection. Washing your hands regularly, not rubbing your eyes, and generally keeping your hands away from your face as much as possible can all help keep infection at bay.

  • Seek medical treatment. If you suspect you have an eye infection, don’t wait to see your medical provider.

  • Get regular eye check-ups. Early detection of eye disease is important to help slow or even stop the progression of the condition and to learn the best methods of treatment.

Glassy eyes can look a bit strange or even scary, but they are usually treatable. They do not mean your senior loved one is going blind. It can be a condition that comes and goes. If it seems to happen more often than not and self-care methods aren’t helping, visit an eye doctor or primary care provider who can help determine the cause and offer a course of treatment.

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