Everyone one of you should be concerned about problems affecting their eyes, particularly those affecting their ability to see clearly. Take care of your eyes to protect your vision. Always use eye protection to avoid injuries and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays. Some eye problems are minor and go away. Others can cause vision loss.
Learn about several diseases of the eye
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that develop due to elevated intra-ocular pressure (IOP) within the eye. The increased pressure affects the optic nerve and may cause vision loss. Glaucoma is classified either as open-angle (the more common form that is usually painless) or angle-closure glaucoma (which often occurs suddenly and is associated with pain and redness of the eye).
In the early phases of glaucoma there are often no symptoms. By the time vision is affected, the damage is permanent. Progression of glaucoma can be slowed or halted with eye drops, laser treatments, or surgery so early diagnosis is key.
People with a family history of glaucoma, the elderly, and African-Americans are at increased risk of the disease.
A cataract is a painless cloudy lens in the eye that causes blurry vision. It progresses slowly as we age (most people who live long enough will have some cataract-like changes to their cornea). Other causes of cataracts include diabetes, trauma, some medications, and excessive UV light exposure.
Your doctor can see a cataract while doing a routine eye exam. Treatments for cataracts include eyeglasses, magnifying lenses, or surgery. Surgery is curative as the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one. The need for surgery and the risks involved should be discussed with your eye doctor.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease with onset at any age, usually after age 60, that progressively destroys the macula, the central portion of the retina that helps with focus. It rarely causes total blindness as only the center of vision is affected.
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow, leaking blood and fluid, causing loss of central vision, which may occur quickly. In dry AMD, the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down causing central vision to diminish over time.
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina (tissue in the back of the eye) separates (detaches) from its underlying structures. The buildup of fluid behind the retina is what separates the retina from the back of the eye. Retina detachments are often painless, and symptoms that may be noticed include perception of flashing lights, floaters, or a curtain drawn over your visual field. Risk factors for retinal detachment include being a nearsighted adult age 25 to 50, or an elderly person after cataract surgery. Treatment for a detached retina involves surgery, mostly using lasers, that can improve vision affected by the retinal detachment.
Another common cause of visual difficulty is astigmatism, in which images are blurred due to an irregularly-shaped cornea. Astigmatism will eventually affect most people as a part of the aging process. It is treated with glasses, contact lenses, or refractive laser eye surgery.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids. The inflammation can be found on the outer (anterior) or inner (posterior) eyelid and symptoms include burning, itching, swelling, flaky skin at the base of the lashes, crusting of the eyelids, tearing, or blurred vision. Common causes of blepharitis are problems with oil glands at the base of the eyelids, infections, or other skin conditions. Treatment includes good eyelid hygiene, including frequent cleaning, light scrubbing, using a mixture of water and baby shampoo. Severe cases of blepharitis may require antibiotics or steroids.
Farsightedness (hyperopia) is difficulty focusing on objects that are close. It is very common and the incidence increases with age. It is caused by an abnormally flat cornea that does not allow light to sharply focus on the retina. Glasses, contact lenses, or surgery may be used to correct hyperopia.
Nearsightedness (myopia) causes people to be unable to see distant objects, though they can see nearby objects clearly. It is caused by the cornea having too much curvature, resulting in problems with focusing on the retina. Myopia is extremely common and easily corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is redness and inflammation of the clear tissue covering the eye and the inside of the eyelids (conjunctiva). It is commonly caused by bacterial or viral infections but may also be due to irritants (chemicals, pollutants, or allergens).
Most cases of infectious conjunctivitis are viral and do not need treatment with antibiotics. Bacterial conjunctivitis can be treated with antibiotic drops or ointments prescribed by your doctor. A crusty discharge may make it difficult to open the eyelids. If this happens a warm, wet compress may be applied to the eyes to gently remove the crusting.
To reduce the spread of the infectious conjunctivitis, wash hands frequently, do not share eye drops, cosmetics, towels, or washcloths.
Floaters are caused by aging changes in the vitreous jelly of the eye. They are a common consequence of aging. If you develop multiple floaters, or floaters associated with pain, get checked by your ophthalmologist. In general floaters do not cause blindness and are mostly harmless. There is no definitive treatment for floaters, as most will fade or become less noticeable over time.
The cornea is the clear surface covering the front of the eye. It is normally smooth and round, following the contour of the eyeball. Weakness in the structure of the cornea can lead to pressure in the eyeball, causing an conical-shaped abnormal bulge to the front of the eye in a condition called keratoconus. Changes in the shape of the cornea make it difficult for the eye to focus even with the help of glasses or contact lenses. Keratoconus can also cause complications during certain eye surgeries. Treatment includes rigid contact lenses or corneal transplantation.
Uveitis is inflammation to the middle layers of the eye (the uvea). The uvea is the layer of the eye that contains the arteries and veins that feed the important structures used in vision. Causes of uveitis include trauma or injury to the eye, infections, or rheumatologic or inflammatory diseases that affect other parts of the body. The main symptom of uveitis is pain in the eyeball. The eye will look red (bloodshot) and you may notice blurred vision, light sensitivity, and spots in your vision.
Treatment for uveitis depends on the cause. Anti-inflammatory or antibiotic drops, along with pain medications may be prescribed.