Eye Problems Explained

  • Glaucoma is a condition wherein the optic nerve which connects your eye to the brain is damaged. This damage is either caused by a higher than normal pressure of fluid inside your eye or because the optic nerve is more susceptible to damage from pressure. One or both eyes can be affected.

    As you cannot feel the pressure of your eye and as the damage takes place slowly, you may not realise that you have glaucoma until a lot of damage has already been done. Glaucoma will show no symptoms at first but when the damage is done it cannot be rectified. It is important to discover the condition early and the most effective way to make sure of this is to get a regular eye examination.

    Optometrists recommend that people at risk of developing glaucoma should have an eye test at least every two years. Untreated glaucoma will cause eyesight to gradually deteriorate and could lead to blindness but there are treatments available that can prevent this.

    Who is at risk?

    Anybody can develop glaucoma but the risk increases if you:

    • Are aged over 40
    • Are very short-sighted
    • Are of African or Caribbean origin
    • Have eye pressure above the normal range but do not have Glaucoma
    • Are closely related to someone with glaucoma (Glaucoma tends to run in families).

    How it Glaucoma treated?

    If you are diagnosed with the condition then you will be given eye drops to use every day. These will reduce the pressure in your eye and help to manage the build-up of fluid. A small number of cases require an operation to help drain away the fluid. Glaucoma cannot be cured but eye drops can treat the condition effectively. Glaucoma is manageable and most people with the condition lead perfectly normal lives.

  • Blepharitis is an inflammation of your eyelids which can cause both your eyelids and your eyelashes to become red and crusty and cause an irritable or itchy feeling. The condition can also lead to burning, soreness and stinging in the eyes. In severe cases, lashes may fall out, and styes and small ulcers may develop. You may also find that your eyelids become puffy. These symptoms are often worse in the morning and when you wake up you might find that your eyelids are stuck closed.

    Who is at risk of Blepharitis?

    Blepharitis is more common in people over 50, but it can develop at any age. As you get older, the glands in your eyelids that secrete your tears become blocked more easily, your tears contain fewer lubricants and your eyes can feel gritty and dry.

    How is Blepharitis Treated?

    Although Blepharitis can be uncomfortable, it rarely causes serious eye damage. It is a long-term condition that normally affects both eyes, is not curable and can re-occur after clearing up. The condition is normally treated and controlled through good hygiene but some cases will require ointments and antibiotics.

  • Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss for people aged over 50 in the western world. The condition occurs when the delicate cells of the macula – the small, central part of the retina responsible for the centre of our field of vision – becomes damaged and stops working.

    There are two types of AMD: the ‘dry’ form and the more severe ‘wet’ form. Dry AMD is the most common, develops gradually over time and usually causes only a slight loss of vision. The wet form accounts for only 10 to 15 per cent of all AMD cases but involves a much greater risk of sight loss. Because macular degeneration is an age-related process it usually involves both eyes but they may not both be affected at the same time.

    Children and young people can also suffer from an inherited form of Macular Degeneration called Macular Dystrophy. Often, several members of a family will suffer from the condition and should this be the case, it is important that all close relations have their eyes checked regularly.

    What are the symptoms?

    AMD is not a painful condition and it never leads to complete blindness as only the central vision is affected. This means that almost everyone with AMD will have enough sight to stay independent.

    In the early stages of AMD, central vision may become distorted and objects may appear an unusual size or shape. This may happen quickly or develop over several months, but if only one eye is affected it may not be noticed. People with AMD may also experience sensitivity to light or find it more difficult to distinguish colours.

    The macula enables people to see fine detail so those with the advanced condition will often notice a blank patch or dark spot in the centre of their sight. This makes activities like reading, writing and recognising faces tricky.

    Who is at risk from AMD?

    The cause of AMD is unknown but smoking, excessive sun exposure and a high-fat diet are factors that can increase the risk. The risk is also higher in older people and for those for a family history of AMD. The disease is also more frequently occurring in women, especially those with fair skin or a light eye colour.

    How is AMD Treated?

    Optometrists play a vital role in detecting and monitoring AMD by checking your vision standards and examining the Macula for signs of the disease. Early detection is essential for the treatment of some types of AMD.

    There is currently no treatment for dry AMD but the wet form can be treated in several ways. Simple forms of laser treatment may be used to slow the progression of further sight loss. There are also drugs available to treat the condition and combination therapies of drugs and laser treatments are currently in testing.

    There is also evidence to suggest that an improved diet which includes fresh fruit and dark green, leafy vegetables could delay or reduce the severity of the disease. Other studies have shown that taking nutritional supplements may be effective in slowing the progression of AMD.

  • A cataract occurs when the clear lens inside your eye becomes hazy or blurry. This is a normal, gradual process that usually takes place as we grow older. It does not hurt and the early stages of a cataract will not necessarily affect your sight.

    Why do cataracts occur?

    The primary cause of cataracts is age but other factors have been linked to an increased risk. These include smoking, a poor diet, exposure to sunlight, some sorts of medication and medical conditions including diabetes. It is also possible for younger people to develop cataracts if they have experienced an injury to the eye. It is rare for babies to be born with a cataract.

    How will my vision be affected?

    • People with a cataract often notice that they need a different prescription for their glasses. In some cases, long-sighted people may even need their glasses less than before they contracted the cataract.
    • Vision becomes less clear and distinct.
    • Streetlights and headlights can appear more dazzling.
    • Your eyes may experience difficulty adjusting when moving from shaded to sunlit areas.
    • Colours may appear differently or to have become faded or yellowed.

    If you experience any of these symptoms, we advise that you make an appointment with your optometrist.

    Can I prevent cataracts?

    Although there is no scientific evidence to suggest there is a treatment to prevent cataracts, various supplements on the market claim to slow down their progression. We would also advise that you stop smoking and wear quality 100% UV glasses to try to prevent cataracts or to prevent them from worsening.

    How are cataracts treated?

    Many people find that they can manage their cataract simply by changing their prescription, without the need for further treatment. However, if your cataract is affecting your day-to-day life, such as your driving, reading or cooking, you can be referred to an ophthalmologist for cataract surgery.

    Surgery is the only proven treatment for cataracts and it involves the removal of the cloudy lens (the cataract), to be replaced with a clear plastic one. The surgery is safe and is carried out under a local anaesthetic.

    The cataract will not return to the eye from which it has been removed yet it is likely that you will need the same treatment for the other eye in the future.