The most scary thing about glaucoma is that it can steal your vision gradually and without your noticing. The best defense against glaucoma is a regular eye examination. Glaucoma most often strikes people over age 50. But it is recommended that during adult life everyone be tested at least once every year. Some people with glaucoma do experience symptoms, but symptoms vary depending on the type of glaucoma.
- Primary open-angle glaucoma
By far the most common type, primary open-angle glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly. Since there are no early warning signs, it can slowly destroy your vision without you knowing it. The first indication may only occur after some considerable vision loss.
- Acute angle-closure glaucoma
This results from a sudden blockage of the drainage channels within your eye, causes a rapid build-up of pressure inside your eye accompanied by blurred vision, the appearance of colored rings around lights and sometimes extreme pain or redness in the eyes.
While a comprehensive eye examination can determine for certain if you have a cataract forming, there are a number of signs and symptoms that may indicate a cataract. Among them are:
- Gradual blurring or hazy vision where colors may seem yellowed;
- The appearance of dark spots or shadows that seem to move when the eye moves;
- A tendency to become more nearsighted because of increasing density of the lens;
- Double vision in one eye only;
- A gradual loss of color vision;
- A stage where it is easier to see without glasses;
- The feeling of having a film over the eyes; and
- An increased sensitivity to glare, especially at night.
A cataract is a clouding of the normally clear crystalline lens of the eye. This prevents the lens from properly focusing light on the retina at the back of the eye, resulting in a loss of vision. A cataract is not a film that grows over the surface of the eye, as is often commonly thought.
Cataracts are most often found in persons over the age of 55, but they are also occasionally found in younger people, including newborns.
Currently, there is no proven method to prevent cataracts from forming. If your cataract develops to a point that daily activities are affected, you will be referred to an eye surgeon who may recommend the surgical removal of the cataract.
Prescription changes in your eyewear will help you see more clearly until surgery is necessary, but surgery is the only proven means of effectively treating cataracts. The surgery is relatively uncomplicated and has a very high success rate.
Dry Eye Syndrome:
If your eyes sting, itch or burn, you may be experiencing the common signs of “dry eye.” A feeling of something foreign within the eye or general discomfort may also signal dry eye.
Dry eye describes eyes that do not produce enough tears. The natural tears that your eyes produce are composed of three layers:
- The outer oily layer, which prevents or slows evaporation of the tear film;
- The middle watery layer; which moisturizes and nourishes the front surface of the eye;
- The inner mucus layer, which helps maintain a stable tear film.
Dry eye may occur because the volume of tears produced is inadequate (we all produce fewer tears as we get older, and in some cases this can lead to dry eye symptoms). It may result because the composition of the tears has changed so that they are unstable and evaporate more quickly.
Dry eye symptoms can result from the normal aging process. Exposure to environmental conditions, as well as medications, such as antihistamines, oral contraceptives or anti-depressant, can contribute to the symptoms of dry eye. Or, dry eye can result from chemical or thermal burns to the eye.
Potentially significant vision loss can occur in severe cases. Treatment includes eye lubricants medications such as Restasis, nutritional supplements, and surgical techniques such as punctual occlusion.
Diabetes, a disease that prevents your body from making or using insulin to break down sugar in your bloodstream, can affect your eyes and your vision.
Fluctuating or blurring of vision, intermittent double vision, loss of peripheral vision and flashes and floaters within the eyes may be symptoms related to diabetes. Sometimes the early signs of diabetes are detected during a thorough eye examination.
Diabetes can cause changes in nearsightedness and farsightedness and lead to premature presbyopia (the inability to focus on close objects). It can result in cataracts, glaucoma, a lack of eye muscle coordination (strabismus) and decreased corneal sensitivity. The most serious eye problem associated with diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which, if not controlled, can lead to blindness.
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when there is a weakening or swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the retina of your eye, resulting in blood leakage, the growth of new blood vessels and other changes.
In a routine eye examination, your eye care practitioner can diagnose potential vision-threatening changes in your eyes that may be treated to prevent blindness. However, once damage has occurred, the effects are usually permanent. It is important to control your diabetes as much as possible to minimize the risk of developing retinopathy.
In the early stages, diabetic retinopathy can be treated with laser therapy. A bright beam of light is focused on the retina, causing a burn that seals off leaking blood vessels. In other cases, surgery inside the eye may be necessary. Early detection of diabetic retinopathy is crucial. It is routinely screened for in an eye examination.
Several factors that increase the risk of developing retinopathy include smoking, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol intake and pregnancy.
Diabetes-related eye problems can be prevented by monitoring and maintaining control of your diabetes. See your physician regularly and follow instructions about diet, exercise and medication.
Age related macular degeneration or ARMD is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss for people over the age of 60. Symptoms include blurry or fuzzy vision, straight lines like telephone poles and sides of buildings appear wavy and a dark or empty area may appear in the center of vision.
The effect of this disease can range from mild vision loss to central blindness. That is, blindness “straight ahead” but with normal peripheral vision from the non-macular part of the retina which is undamaged by the disease.
Two types of Macular Degeneration
- The majority of ARMD is of the “atrophic” or “dry” variety. It is characterized by a thinning of the macular tissue and the development of small deposits on the retina called drusen. Dry ARMD develops slowly and usually causes mild visual loss. The main symptom is often a dimming of vision when reading.
- The second form of ARMD is called “exudative” or “wet” because of the abnormal growth of new blood vessels under the macula where they leak and eventually create a large blind spot in the central vision. This form of the disease is of much greater threat to vision than the more common dry type. Unfortunately, the cause of this eye condition is not fully understood but it is associated with the aging process. As we age, we become more susceptible to numerous degenerative processes like arthritis, heart conditions, cancer, cataracts and macular degeneration. These conditions may be caused by the body’s overproduction of free radicals. During the metabolic process, oxygen atoms with an extra electron are released. These extra electrons are quite destructive and cause cellular damage, alter DNA, and are thought to be at least partially responsible for many of the degenerative diseases mentioned above. The production of these free radicals is normal during metabolism but the body produces its own “anti-oxidants” to neutralize them.
Some of the vitamins in the food we eat also have anti-oxidant properties. These are vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene. Unfortunately, smoking, poor nutrition and other lifestyle factors result in the body producing too many free radicals. For this reason, lifestyle factors may contribute to the risk of ARMD.
There is some evidence to suggest that ARMD has a genetic basis, as the condition tends to run in families. The exact nature of this familial tendency, however, has not been clarified.
Although researchers are spending a great deal of time investigating the cause and treatment of ARMD, there is no real cure available. The goal of current treatment efforts is to attempt to stabilize the condition. For the more severe wet form of the disease, doctors have tried laser photocoagulation. This treatment, however, is not without dangers and is only beneficial in the very early stages of the condition, which is why early detection is so important. This technique involves directing a beam of laser light at the abnormal blood vessels in order to destroy them and prevent their leaking. Provided that the blood vessels have not grown under the macula, this treatment can be helpful in arresting the progress of the disease. If the blood vessels are already under the macula, the laser may cause scarring and permanent vision loss.
No treatment exists for the dry form but many doctors recommend that a combination of specific vitamins and minerals helps slow the progression of the disease.
Flashes, Floaters, and Vitreous Detachment:
Floaters, sometimes called spots, are small, and semi-transparent or cloudy particles that float within the vitreous, the clear, jelly-like fluid that fills the inner portion of your eyes. Floaters are usually harmless and are seen by many of us at one time or another.
They generally look like translucent specks of various shapes and sizes or like cobwebs. They are frequently visible when you are looking at a plain lighted background like a plain pastel wall a blue sky, or the white pages of a book.
There are a number of possible causes for floaters. There may be small flecks of protein or other matter that were trapped during the formation of your eyes before birth and remain suspended in the clear fluid of the vitreous.
Deterioration of the vitreous fluid may also cause floaters to develop. This can be part of the natural aging process and is often not serious, though it can be very annoying. And, certain eye diseases or injuries can cause floaters.
Sometimes flashes or streaks of light may appear. This may be happening because the jelly-like vitreous is shrinking and pulling on the retina. The retinal receptor cells are stimulated to “fire” tugging action and cause the perception of light flashes.
Flashes, floaters, and vitreous detachment are common and only infrequently lead to serious eye problems. On rare occasions, vitreous detachment can cause small tears or holes in the retina.
While flashes and floaters can be symptoms or signs of either vitreous detachment or retinal detachment, vitreous involvement occurs far more frequently and usually requires no treatment.