Having an eye test won’t just tell you if you need new glasses or a change of prescription, it is also an important health check. It can spot many general health problems and early signs of eye conditions before you’re aware of any symptoms – as eyes rarely hurt when there’s a problem – many of which can be treated if found early enough.
Here are just a few examples of common eye conditions and pathologies. Your optician will diagnose the symptoms in the eye examination.
- Cataracts are when the lens inside your eye (lies behind the iris and the pupil), develops cloudy patches. Over time these patches usually become bigger causing blurry, misty vision and eventually blindness.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects a tiny part of the retina at the back of your eye, called the macula. AMD causes changes to the macula, which leads to problems with your central vision. AMD affects the vision you use when you’re looking straight at something, for example when you’re reading, looking at photos or watching television. Your central vision can become distorted or blurry, and over time, a blank patch may appear in the centre of your vision. AMD doesn’t affect your peripheral (side) vision, but some types of AMD can lead to total loss of sight if left untreated.
- Blepharitis is inflammation of the rims of the eyelids, which causes them to become red and swollen. It is a common condition which can develop at any age but is more common in young children and people over 50. Most people experience repeated episodes followed by periods with no symptoms. It is not possible to catch blepharitis from someone else who has it. The symptoms of blepharitis can include: burning, soreness or stinging in the eyes; crusty eyelashes and itchy eyelids. Although it is not an infection, it can be caused by a reaction to the bacteria that live naturally on the eyelid skin.
- Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to your brain. If the damage continues, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss.
- Floaters are tiny pieces of debris in the eye’s fluid, they typically appear when small pieces of the eye’s gel-like vitreous break lose. While annoying, ordinary eye floaters and spots are very common and usually harmless.
- Conjunctivitis also known as red eye is an eye condition caused by infection or allergies. It usually gets better in a couple of weeks without treatment. It usually affects both eyes and makes them bloodshot, burn or feel gritty, produce pus that sticks to lashes, itch and / or water. Conjunctivitis can be contagious depending on what caused it, when it is an infection it is likely to be contagious however in cases of hay fever or allergic reactions, they are safe to others.
- Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). The retina is the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical signals. The signals are sent to the brain which turns them into the images you see.The retina needs a constant supply of blood, which it receives through a network of tiny blood vessels. Over time, a persistently high blood sugar level can damage these blood vessels.This condition can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated. However, it usually takes several years for diabetic retinopathy to reach a stage where it could threaten your sight.
So what can you do to protect your eye sight and to avoid some of these conditions?
Most importantly make sure you have regular check-ups from a health professional, it is recommended that people between the age of 16 and 70 should have an eye test every two years, and those under 16, over 70, diabetic or with a family history of glaucoma are advised to see their optician yearly.
Secondly, if you are a smoker, try to quit smoking as it can have a thinning effect on your vessels which can reduce or cut out the blood supply to the tiny vessels in your eyes.
Thirdly, eat healthily whenever you can. There are certain food types that can contribute to the health of your eyes. These groceries include fish (tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, herring), nuts and seeds, avocado and citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruits), leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, collard), beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, beef, eggs and water! You can also buy supplements from your local optician or pharmacy that contains helpful ingredients to look after those very precious eyes. We recommend MacuShield.
You may not be aware that regular exercise can also aid your visual health. Moving can help to reduce your blood pressure and help with insulin sensitivity. Regular exercise positively affects your arteries by reducing the risk of them narrowing or hardening.
Finally, due to the weather conditions, we Brits usually tend to forget about UV protection. Your eyes are a very fragile part of the body and due to not often having sunny days in the UK, many of us do not wear sunglasses which would protect our eyes from those UV rays. Although most people link UV light to sunny and bright days, this is not always the case, UV light is always around us to a greater or lesser extent. Keep a pair of sunnies in your bag or your car and wear them as often as you can (to the degree where it doesn’t affect clarity in your vision) to protect your eyes from damaging. Both normal corrective spectacle lenses and contact lenses protect the eye from up to 80% of that harmful UV light.