Having trouble reading? What your eye sight symptoms mean and how to treat them
If you're reading this at arm's length without spectacles or scrunching up your to see the words, it might be time to see the optician!
We're all a little guilty of taking our eyes for granted. But as our sight and our overall eye condition can change so much as we age, it's time to give our peepers a little TLC...
Glaucoma: This is a very common age-related condition that damages the optic nerve, and is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world.
"It's caused by a build-up of fluid in the eye and can lead to tunnel vision," explains Francesca Marchetti, optometrist and advisor to WINK, an independent eye-care panel. "Patients are totally unaware they have it, unless they have an eye test."
Glaucoma can make eyes very sensitive to light and glare, so ophthalmologists recommend sufferers wear sunglasses whenever they're outside. It can also cause eye pain, nausea and blurred vision.
Singer Bono recently revealed he's had glaucoma for 20 years; actress Whoopi Goldberg and singer Andrea Bocelli are also sufferers.
How to treat it: "Damage from glaucoma is irreversible, so treatment is to prevent further damage occurring," explains Dr Saj Khan, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon from the London Eye Hospital.
Most glaucoma is treated with eye drops that reduce the pressure inside the eye. But if drops are unable to provide sufficient pressure control, additional treatments may be needed. "These include certain forms of laser treatment, surgery to allow fluid to drain more freely out of the eye, and laser or freezing therapy to reduce fluid production inside the eye."
Can't read the small print?
Presbyopia: "This is an age-related condition affecting everyone, usually between the ages of 40 and 50," explains Francesca Marchetti. "You'll increasingly have difficulty focusing on small print and will need to hold text further and further away."
Age causes the eye's lens to thicken gradually and lose flexibility, making it harder to focus on objects at reading distance.
How to treat it: "If you already need glasses for distance, bifocals will help to correct both the distance and close-up vision," advises Francesca. Or try reading glasses, only worn for close-up work.
"Book in for an eye test, as it's much better for your eyes to get a pair that are bespoke to your needs, rather than just picking up a pair in the supermarket," Francesca continues.
Alternatively, ask your optometrist about BioTrue ONEday contact lenses, designed for presbyopia sufferers, using new technology to ensure near, intermediate and distance vision.
Contact lens hygiene
Although contact lenses are safely used by millions of people every day, they do carry a risk of infection. 20% of contact lens wearers NEVER clean their contact lens case and 30% never change the solution.
"Poor hygiene can cause a build-up of bacteria, and the most common infection related to this is keratitis," says ophthalmologist Dr Nick Atkins. "This is an inflammation of the cornea, and in severe cases it can lead to vision loss."
Good practice helps avoid infection. "Don't leave lenses in for long periods. If eyes feel gritty or start to look red, take them out," says Dr Atkins. Always wash your hands before you insert them, and follow the instructions when cleansing and storing. Even better, use daily disposables that reduce the risk of infection.
Some people see small shapes in their field of vision, caused by debris in the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the space in the middle of the eyeball. The debris casts shadows on the retina (the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye), which is what you see.
Floaters occur as your eyes change with age. They don't usually require treatment. In rare cases, they may be a sign of a retinal tear or detachment (where the retina starts to pull away from the blood vessels).
See an optician if you notice any change in your floaters or vision in general.
Things are looking cloudy
Cataracts: In the UK, approximately one third of people over 65 will havea cataract, which affects vision.
"A cataract is the clouding of the natural lens inside the eye," explains Dr Khan. "This typically occurs as we get older, and results in a gradual loss of vision that cannot be corrected by glasses or contacts." However, recent research suggests that over-exposure to UV rays could also lead to cataracts.
How to treat it: "Cataract surgery is a keyhole procedure under local anaesthetic and takes around 25 minutes," says Dr Khan. The cloudy lens is removed and replaced with a clear artificial lens.
"The prescription you need is determined by a series of pre-operative scans and tests that measure the eye and focusing power of the cornea," Dr Khan explains.
The lens can also improve pre-existing problems, such as short- or long-sightedness, so you may not be so dependent on your glasses afterwards.
Following the procedure you'll be given a plastic pad to protect the eye while you sleep, eye drops to prevent infection, and are advised to take things easy for the first couple of days, although your vision should fully return within a few days
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): The most common form of vision loss in the over-50s is caused when cells in the macula – the part of your eye responsible for central vision – deteriorate; Dame Judi Dench is a sufferer.
It can affect anyone, but certain risk factors increase your likelihood of developing it. These include smoking, a family history of AMD, and gender (women are more likely to develop it than men).
"AMD results in a loss of detailed vision, making it impossible to read, drive, sew or recognise faces," explains Marchetti.
There are two types...
'Dry' is more common and is very gradual – it can take several years for vision to become affected. Symptoms include needing brighter light than normal when reading; finding printed or written text appears blurry; colours appearing less vibrant; difficulty recognising people's faces; vision seeming hazy, or less well defined.
'Wet' is more severe and can affect vision in a matter of weeks. Symptoms include visual distortions, for example straight lines may appear wavy or crooked; blind spots that usually appear in the middle of your visual field and become larger the longer they are left untreated; and hallucinations – seeing shapes, people and/or animals that are not really there.
How to treat it: "UV light is a catalyst to macular degeneration," says Marchetti, "so always protect your eyes from the sun."
Quitting smoking and controlling blood pressure can prevent it, and upping your anti-oxidant protection through diet (eat plenty of dark, leafy veg, like broccoli, kale and spinach) and vitamin supplements rich in lutein can also, in some cases, help stop it worsening.
In contrast, wet macular degeneration can be treated with very fine injections directly into the eye, or by laser treatment, both of which may slow progress and in some cases can reverse some of the visual loss.
Did you know...
The eyes can be the key to other underlying health problems
Regular tests don't just check eye health, they can also spot symptoms of other health issues, including brain tumours, skin cancer, heart disease and high cholesterol. Book in for one every year or two.
"Looking at the eye is one of the only ways to tell what's going on inside the body without surgery," explains Francesca Marchetti. "Blood vessels can be seen at the back of the eye and a change in these can indicate different health concerns, allowing an ophthalmologist to refer a patient to a specialist."
TAKEN FROM www.mirror.co.uk by Sarah Cooper-White