Dry Eye: Do your eyes burn, water, itch, or get dry?
The tears your eyes produce are necessary for overall eye health and clear vision. Natural tears make your eyes feel cool, comfortable, and refreshed, and help to prevent infection of your eye and eyelids. Health conditions, certain medications (such as antihistamines, anti-depressants, and oral contraceptives), the environment, and the aging process may affect the tear-producing glands. As a result, the amount and quality of tears can be altered, creating an unhealthy tear film for the eye surface. Symptoms of dry, red, itchy, burning, and watery eyes are the most common medical reasons people visit their eye doctor.
Dry eye sufferers can use eye drops based on specific symptom levels and the time of day they need relief. In addition to these artificial tears, prescription eye drops, warm compresses, and nutritional supplements are extremely effective in reducing symptoms.
Electronics and Vision: Do your eyes get tired while looking at your computer, iPad, or cell phone?
More than half of all computer users various symptoms directly and indirectly related to sustained near focus, associated with the use of computers. Visual stress also may underlie complaints of general body fatigue, reduced efficiency at work, and higher error rates as the day progresses. Some of the signs and symptoms of computer related vision problems are headaches, eyestrain, irritated/dry eyes, blurred vision, slow refocusing when looking from near to far, occasional or frequent doubling of vision, and present lens prescription failing to relieve symptoms. If you suffer from any of these symptoms, it is time to have a comprehensive vision and eye health examination. The doctor’s recommendation may be the key to making work less stressful, less painful, and more productive.
Cataracts: Are you having difficulty seeing at night?
A cataract is the clouding of the lens inside the eye. Normally, light passes through the clear lens and is focused onto the retina. However, the natural aging process can cause the lens to become cloudy. The cloudy lens blocks the passage of light through the eye and causes distorted or blurred vision, glare, halos around lights, or difficulty seeing at night. Cataract surgery is the most common operation in the world; in fact, in the United States alone, more than 2.7 million procedures are performed annually. According to the National Institute of Health, 50% of people over the age of 65 have developed significant cataracts that require surgery. Therefore, it is important to have your annual eye examination to rule out the development of cataracts as we all age.
Flashes and Floaters: Do you see spots, lines, or shadows?
Almost everyone sees floaters at some point, but they can occur more frequently and become more noticeable as we age. Floaters appear as small black or opaque spots or strings that come and go as you move your eye around, particularly when looking at blank backgrounds, such as a white wall or blue sky. Floaters associated with a posterior vitreous detachment (when the gel inside the eye loosens from the retina) are more common in patients who are nearsighted, have undergone eye surgery, are over the age of 50, or have had inflammation of the eye. These floaters – which may be associated with flashes of light that may seem like lightning bolts or sparkling to the side of your vision – are common and benign and should be observed at least once a year by dilated eye exam.
Flashes and floaters, however, can be an indication of a serious problem with the retina. If you see an increase in flashes or floaters – meaning existing ones grow larger or increase in number, or new ones appear altogether – you should be seen immediately for a dilated eye examination to rule out retinal holes, tears and detachments. If there is retinal damage, it should be treated immediately to prevent vision loss.
Glaucoma: Have you ever been told you have high eye pressure?
Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that lead to damage to the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the eye to the brain. When damage occurs, peripheral vision may be lost. In most cases, damage to the optic nerve is due to increased pressure in the eye, also known as intraocular pressure (IOP). Most people have no symptoms and a complete eye examination is necessary to find risk factors and to definitively diagnose the disease.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. It most often occurs in people over age 40. 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 use medications that increase the pressure in the eyes. Glaucoma cannot currently be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early it can usually be controlled. Medication or surgery can slow or prevent vision loss.
Diabetic Retinopathy: Have you had your annual diabetic eye exam?
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. It damages the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive nerve tissue in the back of your eye that sends visual images to your brain. It is imperative that diabetic patients – even if their vision seems fine – be seen at least once a year for a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
Retinal vessel damage happens slowly with high glucose and high blood pressure. Diabetics can also develop cataracts much earlier if the blood sugar levels are poorly controlled. With early detection during a dilated examination, irreversible vision loss can be prevented. Without detection, blurred vision can occur when vessels weaken and leak fluid. This leakage causes swelling and abnormal blood vessel growth in the retina, which can bleed into the eye and block vision. There are many treatments available for when retinopathy does occur, but most ocular changes can be prevented with early detection.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Are you having a hard time reading the newspaper?
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over the age of 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.8 million people have AMD and another 7.3 million are at substantial risk for vision loss from AMD. Caucasians are at higher risk for developing AMD than other races. Women also develop AMD at an earlier age than men. This eye disease occurs when there are changes to the macula, a small portion of the retina that is located on the inside back layer of the eye. AMD is a loss of central vision that can occur in two forms: “dry” or atrophic and “wet” or exudative. There are no permanent cures for AMD, but a comprehensive eye examination can yield early diagnosis and treatment recommendations.