Five Common Eye Issues
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If you’ve never experienced vision issues, it can be easy to take your eyesight for granted. But with dozens of eye conditions, millions of Americans struggle to see clearly. Cooper Clinic Optometrist Waziha Samin, OD, FAAO, shares the five most common eye disorders, how they can affect your vision and what signs to look for to help prevent or delay progression.
1. Refractive errors
Refractive errors are the most common eye issue. The World Health Organization estimates more than 153 million people worldwide are visually impaired. Refractive errors occur when the eye cannot focus light clearly, resulting in blurry vision. Four common refractive errors include:
- Myopia (nearsightedness): Difficulty seeing long distances
- Hyperopia (farsightedness): Difficulty seeing objects up close
- Astigmatism: Distorted vision at all distances
- Presbyopia: Difficulty reading or seeing things at arm’s length
Those with refractive errors may need glasses or contacts to correct their vision. “Many patients first experience refractive error at night while driving,” says Dr. Samin. “They notice the streetlights are blurry or ‘streaky,’ which is not normal.” For small refractive errors, our eyes can often compensate in other ways to keep the image clear. However, this can lead to eye fatigue or blurry vision by the end of the day. At this point corrective lenses and contacts may be needed.
Data over the past few years shows an increasing number of children experiencing eye conditions. “One thing we are seeing with children is they are spending less time outside which has been linked to a higher risk of developing myopia,” says Dr. Samin. Natural light helps our eyes develop so it is important to spend time outside as children. For children, it is also imperative to correct vision issues, such as eye turns or refractive errors, as early as possible to prevent lazy eye in the future.
2. Dry eye and ocular allergies
Dry eye occurs when the glands in your eyes do not make enough tears for the surface of your eye to stay wet. Your glands could be under-functioning or your tears could be drying up faster than they are produced. Ocular allergies are similar but occur when your eyes become sensitive to allergens or other irritating substances.
Dry eye and ocular allergies can go hand-in-hand—many people have both but are often only diagnosed with one. Individuals with either of these conditions may experience grittiness, blurring of vision, foreign body sensation, redness, irritation and itchiness. Itchiness is typically worse for those with ocular allergies.
Anyone can develop either of these conditions at any age. It is important to find the root cause of ocular allergies so you know what to avoid and can treat your symptoms accordingly. Dry eye and ocular allergies are often treated with over-the-counter eye drops, allergy or prescription medications and lifestyle changes including avoiding smoke, limiting screen time and drinking plenty of water.
“Cataracts are the third most common eye issue because almost everyone develops them!” says Dr. Samin. Exposure to UV rays from the sun is the main cause of cataracts so protecting your eyes with sunglasses is helpful in preventing cataracts at a young age. The lens in your eye takes on the UV rays, protecting your retina, but over time, your lens wears out and becomes cloudy resulting in cataracts. In your 40s, your lens stiffen and then in your 60s and 70s is when your vision may become cloudy. Those with cataracts typically experience glares when driving at night in addition to cloudy vision.
“There are currently no eye drops or over-the-counter medications for cataracts. However, cataract surgery is the number one performed surgery in the United States and is a very effective treatment.” During cataract surgery, the cataract (lens) is removed and replaced with an implant. Before surgery, your surgeon reviews implant options with you to determine which will work best for your situation. Typically, the surgery is performed on the “worse” eye first and, once it heals, the same surgery is performed on the other eye.
4. Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when there is a large buildup of plaque in the macula—a part of the retina that controls central vision—due to oxidative stress. This progressive disease is largely genetic and many people who experience it often do not show symptoms until they are in the late stage.
- Dry AMD: The most common type, dry AMD occurs when the macula thins over time. AMD progresses in severity and symptoms of early, intermediate and late AMD.
- Wet AMD: This less common type, wet AMD causes faster vision loss and is always considered the late stage. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow in the back of the eye, damaging the macula.
“Early and intermediate AMD largely have no symptoms which is why it is important to have an annual comprehensive eye exam,” says Dr. Samin. In late AMD (wet or dry) symptoms may include wavy or crooked looking lines, blurry vision, blank spots and dimmer colors than normal. In addition, dry AMD can progress to wet AMD, and at that point the condition cannot be reversed—another reason early detection is crucial.
In addition to family history of AMD, a large risk factor is smoking—currently or in the past. Second-hand smoke also increases your risk of AMD. “I always ask my patients first if they smoke or have a history of smoking. If so, that is the number one risk factor we try to eliminate,” says Dr. Samin.
Your optic nerve is connected to your brain and is comprised of millions of fibers that help you see. Fluid in the eye flows freely through the anterior chamber and exits through the drainage system but when fluid builds up in the front part of your eye, you can develop glaucoma. Two forms of glaucoma include:
- Open angle: A gradual buildup of fluid causing pressure in the eye.
- Narrow angle: The hole where fluid drains is not large enough causing sudden fluid buildup.
In the beginning stages of glaucoma, there are no symptoms. But over time, you slowly lose vision starting with your peripheral (side) vision.
“You can have glaucoma and still live a great quality and quantity of life,” says Dr. Samin. “Since vision loss with open angle glaucoma is so gradual, many patients do not even know they have it. Having your eyes checked annually can help detect glaucoma early and start a treatment plan.” Those over the age of 60 and with a family history of glaucoma are especially at risk of developing the condition as well as those who smoke. Getting a regular eye exam, being aware of family history and wearing eye protection can all help prevent glaucoma.
Treatment options for glaucoma can include eye drops, medications and surgery to reduce the buildup or pressure and fluid. Many times, a combination of these approaches is used.
Age-related eye issues
Many eye issues are age-related such as some of the conditions mentioned above. As with any system in the body, your eyes begin to wear out with age and use. Although the five disorders mentioned above are the most common, this is not an extensive list of eye issues. Taking good care of your eyes starting from a young age is vital in ensuring you live a good quality and quantity of life. Your eyes can even act as a measure of your general health—showing signs of stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, brain tumors and more. Keep an eye on your eye health with an annual comprehensive eye exam such as those offered at Cooper Clinic.
Cooper Clinic offers comprehensive eye care services—including an annual exam—as part of its preventive exam or a stand-alone service. To learn more about Cooper Clinic preventive exams and how an annual exam can help you manage and improve your health, visit cooper-clinic.com or call 866.906.2667.