EYE HEALTH

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They
say the eyes are the windows to the soul. We don’t know if that’s true, but
what we do know is that having perfectly healthy eyes—excellent vision and clear
eyes, free of pain or other symptoms—are crucial to your health and wellbeing. The good
news is that it’s easy to learn more about eye problems, symptoms, and the
treatments that will keep you in tip-top shape.
About
21 million Americans have some type of vision problem, according to a survey
conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While many
of these problems are relatively benign, such as mild nearsightedness, other
eye conditions like glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration can trigger
vision loss and even blindness.
Although
many people start developing eye diseases in middle age, their symptoms may not
appear until later on, when the condition is more advanced and harder to treat.
In fact, some people may not realize they have a vision problem at all until
their eye doctor detects it during a routine screening or a comprehensive
dilated eye exam, which checks your retina, optic nerve, eye pressure, and
more.
The
risk for developing an eye condition increases with age. But other factors can
also up your odds of experiencing vision problems in the future. For example,
African Americans and people with a family history of glaucoma may have a
higher risk of developing the disease. And people who have diabetes can develop
a condition called diabetic retinopathy, which can damage their retinas. By
detecting eye diseases such as these and treating them as soon as possible,
experts estimate that nearly half of all vision loss and blindness could be
prevented.
Symptoms
of eye disease
In
some cases, the symptoms of certain eye diseases can overlap with others. For
example, watery eyes could be a sign of pink eye (conjunctivitis), allergies,
or a sty; likewise, light sensitivity could indicate a cataract, migraine, or
chalazion (a bump on the eyelid). Resting your eyes might help ease symptoms,
but in general, if you’re experiencing severe or lasting pain, you should
call a doctor right away.
Below,
some of the most common symptoms of eye diseases:
• Blurriness
• Discharge
• Flashes of light
• Irritation
• Light sensitivity
• Pain
• Tearing
• Vision loss
Treatment
for eye disease
Eye
doctors will usually treat refractive errors like nearsightedness and
farsightedness with glasses or contacts. But more serious eye diseases may be
treated with a combination of medications or surgery. In many cases, the best
way to protect your vision is to have regular screenings, including
comprehensive dilated eye exams. By detecting eye conditions in their early
stages, it’s possible to prevent vision loss from becoming worse with age.
Here,
a few common eye disease treatments:
• Refractive surgery, a procedure that can help correct refractive
errors, such as nearsightedness or astigmatism (LASIK is a type of refractive
surgery).
• Corneal transplantation to replace either part or all of a damaged
cornea.
• Oral steroids, medications that can treat inflammatory eye conditions
such as uveitis, a serious, potentially vision-damaging inflammation of the
uvea, the middle layer of the eye.
Most
common eye issues and problems
The
most common eye issues in the United States are classified as refractive
errors, which include myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness),
astigmatisms (blurry vision), and presbyopia (an inability to focus on objects
up close). While many of these vision problems can be corrected with the help
of eyeglasses, contacts, or surgery, millions of Americans have more serious
eye conditions that can eventually lead to vision loss or blindness. This
includes diseases like age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic
retinopathy, and glaucoma.
Here
are some eye issues you can develop:
• Refractive errors
• Cataracts
• Optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve
• Retinal diseases, such as a retinal tear or detachment
• Macular degeneration
• Glaucoma
• Conjunctivitis
• Diabetic eye problems, such as diabetic retinopathy and diabetic
macular edema
Glaucoma
Glaucoma
occurs when fluid pressure increases in the eye, damaging the optic nerve.
People with glaucoma can lose their vision and eventually become blind, and the
disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Early
treatment—through eye drops or surgery—may help slow the disease’s progression and prevent
vision loss. People can develop glaucoma at any age, but it usually affects
older adults.
Cataracts
Cataracts
are a clouding of the eye’s lens, leading to blurry vision and eventual vision
loss. They often develop as people age, when the proteins in the eye begin to
clump together and cause cloudiness, making it difficult to see properly. More
than half of Americans have had cataracts by their 80th birthday, and those who
smoke, are obese, have high blood pressure, take certain medications, or have
diabetes have a greater risk of developing them.
Other
symptoms can include double vision, difficulty seeing at night, a “halo” that appears around lights,
and seeing colors become faded or yellowed. An optometrist or ophthalmologist
can diagnose cataracts with a comprehensive eye exam. Prescription eyeglasses
can help some people with cataracts, but others may have to undergo surgery to
remove them.
Conjunctivitis
(pink eye)
Thanks
to its hallmark symptom, conjunctivitis is most commonly known by its nickname,
pink eye. Although it can be hard to pinpoint the cause of conjunctivitis, this
eye condition can be triggered by viruses, bacteria, allergens, chemicals, and
even a loose eyelash or dirty contact lens.
Besides
the classic pink or red color that develops in the eye, conjunctivitis can also
cause a swelling of the eyelids, watery eyes, itching, burning, crusting, or
discharge. Pink eye caused by a virus or bacteria can also be contagious. In
some cases, the eye infection will clear up on its own (using a cool compress
and artificial tears can help ease irritation), but if you’re experiencing pain,
worsening symptoms, a sensitivity to light, and blurry vision, you should see a
doctor.
Macular
degeneration
An
estimated 10 million people in the United States are affected by macular
degeneration, an eye disease that damages the central vision. Macular
degeneration usually refers to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). There
are two subgroups of AMD: wet AMD, which occurs when blood vessels grow under
the retina; and dry AMD, which affects about 80% of all macular degeneration
cases and occurs when the retina thins over time.
Although
early treatment such as “eye vitamins” may help slow the progression
macular degeneration, there is no cure for the disease.
Sty
Sties
are red, pimple-like bumps caused by a blockage in one of the eyelid’s oil glands. They usually
appear on the edge of a person’s eyelid. The most common symptoms include a sensitivity
to light, a sensation of grittiness, and watery eyes. To treat the eye
condition at home, try applying a warm washcloth to the bump. While many sties
heal on their own, your doctor may recommend an antibiotic for a lingering sty,
or try draining it in the office.
Red
eye
When
the blood vessels in the eye become swollen due to dryness, allergies, or
infections like conjunctivitis, the eyes can appear red and bloodshot.
Oftentimes, red eyes don’t signal an emergency, but on some occasions—for example, if it’s accompanied by eye pain or
vision changes—you should call your doctor.
Other
eye conditions:
• Myopia: Also known as nearsightedness, myopia is one of the most
common vision problems in the United States. Along with hyperopia (farsightedness),
this eye condition can be treated with eyeglasses, contacts, and surgery such
as LASIK.
• Chalazion: Sometimes mistaken for a sty, a chalazion is a red, swollen
bump that can spring up on the eyelid when the eyelid’s oil glands become clogged.
• Color blindness: Although less common in women, as many as 8% of men
have color blindness, difficulty distinguishing between shades of similar
colors.
• Eye floaters: Often appearing as squiggly spots in front of your field
of vision, eye floaters are caused by changes in the eye’s vitreous humor, a
jelly-like substance. Sounds scary, but these floaters are usually harmless. An
exception: If they are accompanied by flashes of light, you may be experiencing
posterior vitreous detachment, which could lead to a retinal tear or
detachment. In that case, seek medical attention immediately.
• Dry eye: A difficulty making enough tears to keep the eye moist, dry
eye can cause blurry vision, burning, or itchiness. Using artificial tears or a
prescription medication can help alleviate the discomfort.
• Diabetic retinopathy: An eye disease that affects people with
diabetes, diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the
blood vessels in a person’s retina, which can eventually lead to vision loss.
• Eye strain: Wearing the wrong prescription glasses or contact lenses
can cause your eyes to feel tired or uncomfortable. Another culprit: staring at
electronic screens such as tablets, e-readers, and computers.
• Acanthamoeba keratitis: This rare, drug-resistant infection of the
cornea is caused by the Acanthamoeba organism, a microscopic amoeba found in
lakes, oceans, and soil. Symptoms can include eye pain, redness, blurry vision,
and sensitivity to light. The infection can result in permanent vision loss and
blindness.

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