Eye Conditions

Most people will occasionally experience temporary eye problems, including pain, redness, itching, blurriness or fatigue. Most of these eye problems are temporary and will probably go away on their own without complication. However, sudden eye problems and those that last for more than a couple of days should be checked by an Optometrist or doctor.

A comprehensive list of eye-problems can be found within our A-Z of eye-care. Here is a selection of important eye problems:

  • Diabetes
  • Cataract
  • Glaucoma
  • Dry Eyes

Diabetes (Diabetic Retinopathy)

There are a number of types of diabetes, however the most common, and the one that most often affects the eyes is diabetes mellitus – a disorder that develops when the cells of the body do not receive enough insulin. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and controls how cells take in glucose from the blood (and thereby generate energy), and also how the liver and fat cells store up glucose for future energy production. Too little insulin in the cells of the body occurs either because the pancreas produces too little insulin (or none at all) or because the cells have become resistant to it.

Diabetes Mellitus comes in two types, both of which tend to run in families. Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) normally develops suddenly in either childhood or adolescence. Sufferers must have insulin injections or they will fall into a coma and die. Type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent) tends to develop in middle age, though it is becoming more common in younger people and thought to be linked to dieting. People with Type 2 diabetes tend to be overweight and often have close relatives with the condition. Although these patients can still produce insulin they cannot do so in sufficient quantities as their tissues have become resistant to its effects. Treatment may include weight loss, a diabetic diet, exercise, and anti-diabetic drugs.

Type 2 diabetes often goes undiagnosed for months or even years until a complication such as poor vision is picked up during a medical check or an eye examination. The NHIS will pay for these tests for people with Diabetes.

Modern treatment, combined with responsible self-monitoring means that diabetics can usually live a normal life however the disease is irreversible and reduces life expectancy. Failure to heed the advice of health professionals in the treatment of diabetes mellitus can accelerate the onset of complications.

The complications include retinopathy (damage to the retina, the light sensitive part of the eye), nephropathy (kidney damage) and neuropathy (nerve damage) which may be experienced as a loss of sensation in the extremities. Diabetics are likely to have poor blood circulation, are more prone to ulcers on the feet and legs, dizziness when standing, and in men, impotence. They are also at greater risk of atherosclerosis (fatty arteries), high blood pressure, heart disease and cataracts.

Cataract

A cataract is a cloudy or opaque area in the normally clear lens of the eye. Depending upon its size and location, it can interfere with normal vision. Most cataracts develop in people over age 55, but they occasionally occur in infants and young children. Usually cataracts develop in both eyes, but one may be worse than the other. Researchers have linked eye-friendly nutrients such as lutein/zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including cataracts.

The lens is located inside the eye behind the iris, the colored part of the eye. The lens focuses light on the back of the eye, the retina. The lens is made of mostly proteins and water. Clouding of the lens occurs due to changes in the proteins and lens fibers.

The lens is composed of layers like an onion. The outermost is the capsule. The layer inside the capsule is the cortex, and the innermost layer is the nucleus. A cataract may develop in any of these areas and is described based on its location in the lens:

  • A nuclear cataract is located in the center of the lens. The nucleus tends to darken changing from clear to yellow and sometimes brown.
  • A cortical cataract affects the layer of the lens surrounding the nucleus. It is identified by its unique wedge or spoke appearance.
  • A posterior capsular cataract is found in the back outer layer of the lens. This type often develops more rapidly.

Normally, the lens focuses light on the retina, which sends the image through the optic nerve to the brain. However, if the lens is clouded by a cataract, light is scattered so the lens can no longer focus it properly, causing vision problems.

Cataracts generally form very slowly. Signs and symptoms of a cataract may include:

  • Blurred or hazy vision
  • Reduced intensity of colors
  • Increased sensitivity to glare from lights, particularly when driving at night
  • Increased difficulty seeing at night
  • Change in the eye’s refractive error

While the process of cataract formation is becoming more clearly understood, there is no clinically established treatment to prevent or slow their progression. In age-related cataracts, changes in vision can be very gradual. Some people may not initially recognize the visual changes. However, as cataracts worsen vision symptoms tend to increase in severity.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders leading to progressive damage to the optic nerve, and is characterized by loss of nerve tissue resulting in loss of vision. The optic nerve is a bundle of about one million individual nerve fibers and transmits the visual signals from the eye to the brain. The most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is associated with an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye. This increase in pressure may cause progressive damage to the optic nerve and loss of nerve fibers. Vision loss may result. Advanced glaucoma may even cause blindness. Not everyone with high eye pressure will develop glaucoma, and many people with normal eye pressure will develop glaucoma. When the pressure inside an eye is too high for that particular optic nerve, whatever that pressure measurement may be, glaucoma will develop.

It most often occurs in people over age 40, although a congenital or infantile form of glaucoma exists. People with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans over the age of 40, and Hispanics over the age of 60 are at an increased risk of developing glaucoma. Other risk factors include thinner corneas, chronic eye inflammation, and using medications that increase the pressure in the eyes.

The most common form of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, develops slowly and usually without any symptoms. Many people do not become aware they have the condition until significant vision loss has occurred. It initially affects peripheral or side vision, but can advance to central vision loss. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to significant loss of vision in both eyes, and may even lead to blindness.

A less common type of glaucoma, acute angle closure glaucoma, usually occurs abruptly due to a rapid increase of pressure in the eye. Its symptoms may include severe eye pain, nausea, redness in the eye, seeing colored rings around lights, and blurred vision. This condition is an ocular emergency, and medical attention should be sought immediately, as severe vision loss can occur quickly.

Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early it can usually be controlled. Medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. However, vision already lost to glaucoma cannot be restored. That is why the American Optometric Association recommends an annual dilated eye examination for people at risk for glaucoma as a preventive eye care measure. Depending on your specific condition, your doctor may recommend more frequent examinations.

Factors which predispose to glaucoma include age, race, and a family history of glaucoma. Thyroid disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure may be associated to some degree.

What causes glaucoma?

There are many types of glaucoma and many theories about the causes of glaucoma. The exact cause is unknown. Although the disease is usually associated with an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye, other theories include lack of adequate blood supply to the nerve.

Types of Glaucoma

  • Primary open-angle glaucoma
  • Angle-closure glaucoma
  • Secondary glaucoma
  • Normal-tension glaucoma

How is glaucoma treated?

The treatment of glaucoma is aimed at reducing intraocular pressure. The most common first line treatment of glaucoma is usually prescription eye drops that must be taken regularly. In some cases, systemic medications, laser treatment, or other surgery may be required. While there is no cure as yet for glaucoma, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve eyesight.

  • Medications – A number of medications are currently available to treat glaucoma. Typically medications are intended to reduce elevated intraocular pressure. One may be prescribed a single medication or a combination of medications. The type of medication may change if it is not providing enough pressure reduction or if the patient is experiencing side-effects from the drops.
  • Surgery involves either laser treatment, making a drainage flap in the eye, inserting a drainage valve, or destroying the tissue that creates the fluid in the eye. All procedures aim to reduce the pressure inside the eye. Surgery may help lower pressure when medication is not sufficient, however it cannot reverse vision loss.

Dry Eyes

The eyes are constantly lubricated by tears from the tear duct. This helps maintain the clarity of the vision and the comfort of the eyes. The tears can also fight any bacterial infections acting as a coating of protection for the eyes.

Dry eyes is when the tears are unable to lubricate and moisturise the eyes. Causes of dry eyes include imbalance of the tear-flow system, natural ageing process, possible side effects from certain drugs and some diseases can hinder the tear production process. When the eyes are not lubricated by the tears, symptoms including red eyes, itching, pain, irritation, blurred vision and light sensitivity may arise.

If you believe you may be suffering from dry eyes, you should consult your doctor or optometrist to confirm this and for further advice on what to do next.

Self-Care

Steps you can take to reduce symptoms of dry eyes include:

  • Remembering to blink regularly when reading or staring at a computer screen for long periods of time.
  • Increasing the level of humidity in the air at work and at home.
  • Wearing sunglasses outdoors, particularly those with wrap around frame design, to reduce exposure to drying winds and sun.
  • Using nutritional supplements containing essential fatty acids may help decrease dry eye symptoms in some people. Ask your optometrist if the use of dietary supplements could be of help for your dry eye problems.
  • Avoiding becoming dehydrated by drinking plenty of water (8 to 10 glasses) each day.
CategoryEye Care
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