What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular Degeneration (MD) is a group of diseases that damage the macula, the most central part of the retina responsible for high detail vision like reading, watching TV and driving. Age is the major risk factor. MD is the leading cause of blindness and severe visual loss in people over 50.
Some types of MD advance slowly so that sufferers fail to notice the gradual loss of vision. Other types can progress quickly, causing damage and permanent loss of central vision. MD causes visual distortion so that straight lines appear wavy or bent. Symptoms include: Difficulty reading, recognising faces, or seeing in dim light conditions or at night, sensitivity to glare and reduced colour sensitivity.
Early detection is crucial to saving sight. You can help defend against MD by:
- Having regular eye examinations
- Having a healthy diet including dark green leafy vegetables, fish, and raw nuts
- Protecting your eyes against UV damage from the sun
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly
- Do not smoke
- Specific anti-oxidant supplements may help to reduce progression of MD
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve of the eye, causing blind spots to appear in the visual field. The disease progresses slowly so that no symptoms are noticed until permanent damage occurs. Glaucoma is often associated with high pressure inside the eye but in some cases the pressure may look normal. The longer the disease is left untreated, the greater the risk of major visual loss. Early detection and treatment is the best way to control glaucoma. Regular eye checks are essential, particularly for people with a family history of glaucoma.
What is Cataract?
Cataract is an opacity or clouding of the lens inside the eye, which affects vision by obstructing light entering the eye. Cataracts develop with age and are often confused with a different condition called pterygium, which is a growth on the surface of the eye.
Cataracts can cause a decrease in clear vision over time, hazy vision, increased sensitivity to glare and even double vision. Sun damage is a major factor, tinted lenses can help improve visual symptoms and UV protection can help slow development of cataracts.
Cataract surgery involves removal of the cloudy lens and replacement with an artificial intraocular lens implant, which usually gives permanent improved vision.
What is Pterygium?
Pterygium is a wedge like growth on the white of the eye, which may become red and irritated. In severe cases, the growth may extend onto the clear cornea, and threaten vision.
Pterygiums occur due to irritation from long term sun damage and exposure to wind, glare and dust. Treatment involves minimising eye irritation with UV protection such as using sunglasses and hats, and eye drops to treat dry eye. In advanced cases, surgery is necessary to remove the pterygium.
Diabetic Eye Disease
Diabetic eye disease refers to a group of eye diseases that develop as a complication of diabetes, and include diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma. Regular eye tests are essential for early detection and treatment to minimise visual loss. Vision changes are more likely in people with poorly controlled blood sugar levels.
Diabetic retinopathy causes changes in the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye, causing abnormal blood vessel to proliferate and result in fluid leakage, which damages the retina and causes vision loss. The risk of diabetic retinopathy increases with the total length of time that you have had diabetes. The risk also increases when blood sugar levels are not properly controlled, or when you have other underlying conditions such as high blood pressure. Management of diabetes should include regular eye tests to detect any changes early, as well as regular reviews with your family doctor and endocrinologist. In severe cases treatments using laser or eye injections may help minimise further damage.
What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye is a common condition that affects people of all ages, causing a gritty sensation in the eyes, sore, tired or burning eyes, watery eyes, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, a foreign body sensation, irritated eyes and in severe cases red eyes.
Tears provide the eyes with lubrication and protection against infection. Every blink clears away debris and irritants such as dust and smoke, and spreads a new layer of tears across the surface of the eye. If the tear film is low in quantity, or of poor quality, the protective tear layer evaporates away too quickly, causing dry spots on the eye, and leaving it unprotected.
Many factors affect dry eye, including age, gender, hormonal factors, associated medical conditions, certain medications, environmental factors such as dry weather and air conditioning, and visually demanding tasks that cause us to blink less often. Dry eye may be temporary or a life long condition that if left untreated, can lead to more serious complications.
Mild dry eye can be managed with tear supplements, eye drops that provide eye protection and relief of symptoms. Severe cases may require more specialised treatment.
Floaters and Light Flashes
Floaters are small moving objects we notice in our vision, often best seen against a plain bright background like blue sky, white paper or a wall. They are randomly shaped, like grey dots, squiggly lines or cobwebs, and move in a floating like fashion, often darting away if you try to focus on them.
The eyeball is filled with a clear jelly-like substance called the vitreous, which as we age, becomes more liquid and eventually prolapses. Floaters that develop are debris suspended within this jelly substance. Floaters usually do not go away but over time may improve.
Floaters are usually benign but sometimes they are the sign of more serious eye problems like retinal detachment, bleeding or inflammation. You should always have an eye check if you notice the sudden appearance of floaters, light flashes or any type of vision loss.
Conjunctivitis and Red Eye
Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the thin clear membrane covering the white of the eye and the insides of our eyelids, causing a red and irritated eye.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by allergic reaction, bacterial or viral infection, and by foreign matter irritation, resulting in redness, irritation, watery eye and sometimes a crusty or mucous discharge.
Conjunctivitis and red eye should always be checked, as more serious eye problems have a similar appearance and symptoms. Correct diagnosis is essential to quick and effective treatment.
I’m over 40, why am I having reading difficulties?
Presbyopia is a gradual loss of accommodation, or the focussing ability of the eye, and is part of the normal ageing process.
By their early 40’s, most people notice some difficulty with reading. This is not muscle weakness, but a natural hardening of the lens inside the eye, reducing its flexibility and responsiveness. This causes difficulty with near vision tasks like reading, or threading a needle. This is made worse under poor lighting conditions, or when a person feels tired.
Currently, there is no cure for presbyopia. Corrective lenses such as reading glasses, bifocals and multifocal or progressive lenses help people cope with their near vision tasks.
Computer Vision Syndrome and Eyestrain
Computer vision syndrome is a combination of eyestrain and body postural stress that is experienced with prolonged computer use and other near vision tasks. This can affect people of all ages. Prolonged periods of reading, computer or other near work can cause the eye muscles to strain, leading to sore, tired eyes, headaches, blurred vision, eye dryness and reduced work efficiency. Symptoms often get worse if left untreated. This can affect learning potential for school students, and affects visual performance of people working in offices. Treatment includes support lenses and vision therapy.
Tom Geroulas – West Ryde Optometrist