Many eye health irregularities and problems can be detected early by regular eye tests, including:
AMD (age-related macular degeneration)
Age-related macular degeneration or macular degeneration is the deterioration of the macula, which is at the centre of the back of the eye and is responsible for sensing the sharpest vision we see.
The health of the macula determines our ability to read, watch TV or computer screens, recognise faces or any visual activity that requires us to see finer details.
This condition is prevalent from age 40 onwards and results in a slow loss of vision. Though AMD is associated with ageing, studies have found a genetic component to the condition. It is also linked to high blood pressure, lighter eye colour and obesity.
Symptoms may include shadowy areas in the central line of vision or unusually fuzzy or distorted vision.
There are two forms of Macular degeneration; dry and wet. The dry form is more common than the wet form. The wet form is the more damaging of the two.
Dry macular degeneration can be brought on by the ageing and thinning of macular tissues, the depositing of pigment in the macula or a combination of the two. Dry AMD causes gradual central vision loss.
Wet macular degeneration occurs when dry AMD progresses to a more damaging form of eye disease. New blood vessels grow beneath the retina and leak blood and fluid. This leakage kills light sensitive retinal cells, which result in blind spots in central vision.
AMD cannot be cured but treatments are available to delay its progression and improve vision, depending on what stage the condition has progressed to.
This isn’t as alien as it sounds and can easily be corrected with the right glasses prescription. 8 out of 9 people have astigmatism. It can also occur in conjunction with other refractive states such as near-sightedness or farsightedness.
Astigmatism can be present from birth or develop after an eye injury, disease or surgery. Children may not always realise their vision is blurry or be able to communicate any symptoms they experience, so it’s good to have them screened for the condition at the various childhood developmental stages.
Astigmatism has to do with the shape of the front of the eye. Instead of the eye being a perfect sphere, one part is more curved than another part.
Each of the misshaped curvatures of the eye can be corrected with a glasses or contact lens prescription that will enable a single focal point to be focused on the retina, creating a clear image.
Cataracts directly affect vision by causing light to scatter as it enters the eye. This means that it is impossible to place a sharp image on the retina because as the light passes through the cataract inside the lens of the eye, the light gets scattered and causes a blur in vision.
Cataracts most commonly develop when ageing or an injury changes the tissue that makes up the eye’s lens. Inherited genetic disorders, past eye surgeries or medical conditions such as diabetes, can also initiate the development of cataracts.
People with cataracts may feel as though they are looking through a frosted or fogged up window. This clouded vision can make it difficult to read, drive a car (especially at night) or see details of expression on people’s faces. Double vision in a single eye, seeing halos around lights and fading or yellowing of colours are other symptoms people with cataracts may experience.
Cataracts develop slowly but will eventually impair vision. They generally occur in both eyes, but not evenly.
In the early stages of cataract development, glasses and effective lighting can support vision.
Cataracts are quick and easy to remove these days. It requires a simple 15 minute out-patient procedure, without stitches. So if the cataracts have progressed quickly it could be worth having them removed. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your nearest Spec-Savers store for a FREE Vision Screening to detect if you are suffering from cataracts.
Colour blindness is mostly hereditary. Colour blindness affects 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women.
Certain medications, industrial and environmental chemicals and medical conditions can also contribute to the development of colour blindness.
Inherited colour blindness will remain the same throughout a person’s life but those who acquire colour blindness due to disease etc. can expect their condition to either get worse or improve over time.
There are different types of colour blindness, the most common of which is called red/green colour blindness. This doesn’t mean that the person mixes up red and green, rather, they mix up any colours that have red or green as part of the whole colour. This means that blues and purples may be confused because the person can’t see the red element of these colours. These mix ups can affect the whole colour spectrum and even black can be confused with dark green or dark blue.
Blue colour sensitivity is less common than the red/green type. People with blue colour sensitivity battle to discern between blue and yellow, violet and red, and blue and green. These people will experience the world mainly through red, pink, black, white, grey and turquoise ‘lenses’.
The effects of colour blindness can be so slight that people only realise later in life that they are colour blind. In severe cases teachers can usually identify the problem at pre-school level. There are a few very rare cases in which a person is unable to see any colour at all.
Conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) is caused by viral or bacterial infection or allergies. It usually affects both eyes.
The conjunctiva is transparent but it does contain blood vessels that overlay the white part of the eye surrounding the cornea. Anything that triggers inflammation will cause these blood vessels to dilate, making the eyes appear bloodshot.
Symptoms of conjunctiva include bloodshot eyes, a burning or gritty feeling, itchiness, watering eyes and the production of sticky pus (mostly in bacterial conjunctivitis.
Bacterial conjunctivitis can cause serious damage to the eye if left untreated.
Viral conjunctivitis (due to viruses like the common cold) usually clears up on its own.
Allergic conjunctivitis is stimulated in those susceptible to allergies aggravated by pollen, dust or animal dander.
School children, teachers and anyone who works in close proximity to others in enclosed spaces are susceptible to conjunctivitis.
Wearing glasses can reduce the risk of contracting conjunctivitis (pink eye), by providing a protective screen between the eyes and their immediate environment.
People who wear contact lenses are most at risk for developing corneal neovascularisation. This condition occurs when excess blood vessels grow into the cornea, when it has been starved of oxygen.
In its advanced stages, this condition can threaten eyesight, which is why annual eye testing is recommended for people who wear contact lenses.
A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea which can be caused by eye infections (from bacteria), severe dry eye or contact lenses. Small tears to the cornea resulting from direct trauma, scratches from small particles of sand or steel make the eye susceptible to contracting bacteria, in which case serious ulcers may develop.
Extended wear contact lenses that are worn for several days without being removed at night, can place the wearer at risk of developing corneal ulcers. This is because dirt may become trapped underneath the lens and scratches the cornea, opening it up to infection. Similarly if bacteria are trapped under the lenses for an extended period, these bacteria can multiply and cause damage to the cornea.
Signs of infection to look out for that can lead to corneal ulcers are eye itching, watering, burning or stinging, pink eye and pus like discharge from the eye.
Symptoms of the presence of a corneal ulcer include eye inflammation, excessive tearing, white spot on the cornea, swollen eyelids, pus/discharge, feeling like something is in the eye, blurred vision and sensitivity to light.
Eye medication is prescribed to treat corneal ulcers and patients should avoid wearing contact lenses, wearing make up and touching the eyes. In severe cases, a corneal transplant may be required.
The blood vessels in the eye are very delicate and are often the first to be affected by diabetes. As these vessels can be viewed directly, your Spec-Savers optometrist will be able to detect any diabetic related symptoms. Fluctuating or uncontrolled blood sugar levels can lead to small haemorrhages in the back of the eye and possibly result in blindness. The highest non-infectious reason for blindness is due to diabetes.
If you experienced fluctuating vision (good one day and poor the next) this is an indication you may have diabetes. Another indicator to detect diabetes is poor distance vision.
If you suffer from diabetes ensure you have good control over your blood sugar levels. An annual optometric examination by your Spec-Savers optometrist is of paramount importance in order to detect any changes in your eyes and highly recommended as this is the standard of care proposed by the WHO.
Dry Eyes (keratoconjunctivitis sicca)
Dry eyes are most common in adults over 50 and can also be experienced by people with dry mouth, rheumatoid arthritis and postmenopausal women.
Dry eyes develop when the tear film layers have been diminished or ‘dried out’ and there aren’t enough tears to keep the eye covered by a complete layer of tears. Dry eyes can also be brought on by an abnormality in tear composition which results in a rapid evaporation of the tears during certain activities or in certain environments.
Symptoms include grittiness, burning, sensitivity to light, pressure behind the eyes and a decrease in visual acuity (sharpness). These symptoms can be further aggravated by activities like reading, staring at the computer/TV or driving, in which the rate of blinking is reduced. Dry environments like planes, air conditioned or heated buildings and fans also affect dry eyes.
Dry eyes are usually treated with artificial tears or other eye drops.
Emmetropia is a perfect refractive state. This means that your eyes are neither near nor far sighted, instead they are able to focus on all distances perfectly. If you are emmetropic then no spectacles are required. However reading spectacles may still be required if presbyopia is present.
An epiretinal membrane (ERM) is a thin film like layer of fibrous tissue that forms over the retina in the back of the eye. It is analogous to ‘scar’ tissue.
While ERMs can be caused by other complications they are often a result of the natural ageing process in the eye and may not be associated with any other symptoms. As the ERM often lies directly over the macula, the part of the eye responsible for detail vison, it can affect central sharp vision. Sight will be distorted or blurry until the ERM is removed.
If you have been diagnosed with an ERM but there is no affect on visual outcome, then treatment will not be necessary. ERMs that affect sight can be removed with surgery which should restore your quality of sight.
Hyperopia is a refractive state of vision and common in many people. Being able to see objects clearly at a distance but blurry up close, is the condition more commonly known as farsightedness.
It occurs when the eyeball is too short or the cornea too flat. This causes incoming light rays to focus behind the retina instead of onto the retina.
This condition can be prevalent during childhood. Children may not always realise their vision is blurry or be able to communicate any symptoms they experience, so it’s good to have them screened for the condition at the various childhood developmental stages.
If this condition is severe and left untreated, it can lead to other problems such as lazy or crossed eyes.
Farsightedness can progress from affecting only near vision to both distance and near vision later in life, as the lens in the eye loses flexibility. Symptoms may be more subtle than those of nearsightedness. An inability to focus on objects or even being unable to read, are signs that a person may be experiencing farsightedness.
Treatment options may include glasses or contact lenses.
You might be surprised to hear that you have glaucoma as it is asymptomatic - one doesn’t usually feel or notice it. Peripheral vision is most commonly the first to be affected.
Glaucoma is nerve damage within the eye, a secondary reaction to the pressure being high inside the eye. When pressure in the eye heightens, the optic nerve inside the eye can become impacted causing damage to some of the nerves that run from the eye to the brain, that allow you to see.
In the early stages of glaucoma eye drops may be administered to keep the inner eye pressure down. Other methods of treating glaucoma include pills, laser surgery, traditional surgery or a combination of these methods. The goal of any of these treatments is to prevent loss of vision as vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible. However, when detected and treated early, most people never lose their sight.
There are different types of glaucoma so it is beneficial to seek extra professional guidance relative to the type you have, from an ophthalmologist.
This condition is directly related to high blood pressure and diseases or factors that induce hypertension, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.
Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to the retina caused by high blood pressure. The retina is the layer of tissue at the back of the eye that works like the film in a camera. A damaged retina affects clarity of vision.
Symptoms include sudden vision loss, headaches, double vision or dimmed vision.
The only way to treat this condition is to control blood pressure levels. If the diseases that cause hypertension are incorrectly managed for too long, permanent damage to the eye may be incurred.
Keratoconus occurs when the cornea thins and gradually bulges outward into a cone shape, which causes blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Both eyes are usually affected.
Keratoconus is found in people between the ages of 10 and 25 and is known to progress slowly over a period of 10 years.
This weakness in the eye is a factor associated with genetic predisposition, and often affects more than one member in the same family.
Keratoconus symptoms vary depending on the stage of the condition’s advancement. They may include blurred or distorted vision, increased sensitivity to bright light and glare (including night driving), frequent changes in optical lens prescriptions or a sudden worsening or clouding of vision.
In the early stages of keratoconus, vision can be corrected with glasses or soft contact lenses. Later, rigid gas permeable contact lenses, hybrid contact lenses or prosthetic contacts lenses may be prescribed. With any further advancement in the condition, a corneal transplant or corneal cross-linking may be required. Corneal cross-linking or CXL, strengthens corneal tissue to stop the bulging of the eye’s surface.
Lasik is a type of laser surgery that aims to correct certain refractive states such as myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. This means that if you are normally required to wear spectacles to correct for any of these the surgeon will attempt to reshape your cornea (clear part of your eye) so that you do not need to.
This is not an option for people with moderate to severe myopia (short sightedness) or patients with certain conditions such as keratoconus. Lasik is only performed on adults whose spectacle prescription has remained stable over a period of time.
The surgery entails making a fine incision on the front of the eye using a tool called a microkeratome or a laser. This is used to create a flap. The flap (epithelial layer of the cornea) is then lifted. The surgeon will then use a laser to ablate (remove) tissue from the central layer (stroma) of the cornea. How much tissue is ablated depends on your type of prescription. The surgery can be performed in one day and antibiotic drops will normally be prescribed post-surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
Any laser surgery does not guarantee that the need for spectacles will be removed. If you are considering undergoing laser surgery please consult your optometrist for further information.
Lazy eye (amblyopia)
Lazy eye occurs when the brain blocks out one eye’s image. So the one eye is working and the other is being ‘lazy’. A lazy eye is not the same as an eye turn and lazy eye can occur with or without the presence of an eye turn. This suppression of one eye’s image can be caused by a number of eye conditions:
• The two eyes don’t aim at the same place causing the brain to suppress one eye in order to avoid confusion or double vision. This results in an eye turn that is visible to the outsider.
• The two eyes have significant differences in eyesight or visual perception (such as nearsightedness/farsightedness). This is often left untreated as the eye turn is not externally visible so it is not easily detected.
• One eye sees clearly and the other has blurred vision so the brain suppresses the eye with the blur.
Lazy eye can be treated in both children and adults, through a combination of vision therapy, corrective lenses and patching. The vision skill that needs to be retrained is binocular vision, which enables the brain to combine images from both eyes into one single image.
Myopia is a refractive state of vision and common in many people. Being able to see objects clearly up close, but blurry when further away.
It occurs when the shape of the eye isn’t exactly round, causing light to bend in the wrong direction and focus images in front of the retina instead of onto the retina.
This condition can be genetic and may develop gradually or rapidly. It is usually detected during childhood.
Persistent squinting, excessive blinking, difficulty seeing while driving at night and headaches caused from eyestrain, are other symptoms that may be experienced as a result of myopia.
Treatment options may include glasses or contact lenses.
Night blindness (Nyctalopia)
People with night blindness have poor vision at night or in dimly lit environments. ‘Blindness’ does not mean that they can’t see at all - vision is only impaired by darkness.
A person will most notably experience night blindness while driving because of the intermittent brightness of car headlights or roadside lighting. Transitioning from a bright outdoor environment into a dimly lit restaurant or shaded house, also presents visual restrictions for people with this condition.
Night blindness can be caused from nearsightedness, cataracts, and other conditions.
Older people are more likely to develop night blindness because they are more at risk of developing cataracts, than children or young adults. A vitamin A deficiency can also lead to night blindness.
Night blindness caused by nearsightedness, cataracts or vitamin A deficiency is treatable. Corrective lenses can improve nearsighted vision both during the day and at night.
A pinguela is a creamy coloured growth that appears on the white of the eye, in one or both eyes.
This condition is most prevalent in the eyes of people who partake in outdoor sports such as surfers, sailors or skiers, as they are exposed to high levels of reflected UV light. Pingueculae (plural) usually develop in people between the ages of 20 and 50.
Pingueculae can be treated with eye drops and are rarely surgically removed.
Posterior capsular opacification
Often abbreviated to PCO, this condition is common after undergoing cataract surgery. The symptoms are very similar to most cataracts in that the pathway for light to enter the eye is disrupted resulting in blurred vision.
During cataract surgery the organic lens is removed from the eye and replaced with a synthetic lens. The new lens is placed into the same biological capsule that contained the previous one. PCO results when there is a remanent of organic tissue that was not fully removed and starts covering the surface of the lens. This is why the symptoms are similar to a cataract.
PCO is easily resolved with a quick and simple procedure using a laser to remove the infringing organic matter. The procedure is painless and requires no recovery.
Presbyopia is commonly mistaken for farsightedness, instead, presbyopia occurs as the result of a loss of flexibility of the lens in the eye.
Ageing induces the hardening of the crystalline lens in the eye, causing it to lose elasticity. This loss of flexibility means that the eyes aren’t able to adjust to focus on near objects.
Presbyopia usually affects people in their 40s and even if a person hasn’t previously experienced poor vision, it is still possible to develop presbyopia.
Symptoms for presbyopia include blurred vision while reading, squinting to read smartphone screens, eye strain, headaches, or tired eyes when trying to focus on things that require near distance vision.
Glasses and contact lenses can improve this condition.
Pseudomyopia is false nearsightedness. It is an adaption by the eye to maintain clear vision. Pseudomyopia is characterised by a change in the curvature of the lens in the eye.
Symptoms of this condition are brought on by a change in a person’s visual activities or focus, rather than a genetic tendency. The symptoms will be similar to that of nearsightedness with the intermittent blurring of distance vision being the predominant indicator.
Intense studying or working in front of a screen or any prolonged visual effort can bring on this condition. Pseudomyopia usually occurs in young adults.
Pseudomyopia can be managed by adapting working conditions to alleviate any potential threat to eye health, by using prescriptive eye drops or by doing ocular exercises. Prescriptive glasses can also support vision affected by pseudomyopia.
A pterygium is a fleshy pink, wedge-shaped growth of abnormal tissue that forms on the eye. Pterygiums usually form in the inner corners of one or both eyes.
These growths are quite harmless but can result in blurred vision if they continue to grow onto the cornea.
People with this condition will experience the sensation of having something stuck in the eye. The eyes may also become dry, irritated and inflamed. It is difficult to wear contact lenses with the presence of a pterygium.
This condition is most prevalent in the eyes of people who partake in outdoor sports such as surfers, sailors or skiers, as they are exposed to high levels of reflected UV light. Pterygiums usually develop between the ages of 20 and 50.
A pterygium can be treated with eye drops but surgery may be necessary if vision is affected.
Spots or Floaters
Floaters are dark spots or strands like cobwebs that appear to float in front of the eyes. This may seem a bit scary at first but floaters are quite common and usually harmless.
People who have had floaters for years find that the eye and brain learn to ignore them.
Floaters often show up in people who are short sighted or when the gel in the eye shrinks as one gets older. This gel then starts to liquefy and pulls away from the eyeball’s interior surface. As the gel (vitreous) shrinks and sags, it gets clumpy and stringy. This debris blocks some of the incoming light, casting tiny shadows onto the retina, which are seen as floaters. Sometimes the gel shrinks enough to collapse away from the light sensitive lining at the back of the eye, called the retina. When this happens floaters may appear as large ring shapes.
Floaters ‘float’ in the jelly of the eye so when one moves the eye to try to look at the floater, it will move in the direction that the eye moves. They are most apparent when one looks at a plain light background like the sky or a white wall.
The number of floaters in the eye can increase with age. A dramatic increase in floaters could be a sign of a more serious problem inside the eye such as retinal detachment. In this case it’s recommended that you contact your optometrist immediately, especially if you see light flashes or lose peripheral vision.
The thyroid is a small gland that forms part of the endocrine system and is responsible for maintaining the body’s metabolism. There are two main ways in which the thyroid does not function properly. Either it is underactive (hypothyroidism) or over active (hyperthyroidism). A medical doctor will be able to diagnose if you have either of these conditions and advise on the correct course of treatment.
If you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition it is important to get your eyes tested regularly as the conditions, or the medication taken, can have an effect on the eyes.