When it comes to signs of eye disease, Americans are blind to the facts. A recent survey showed that while nearly half (47%) of Americans worry more about going blind than losing their memory or their ability to walk or hear, almost 30% of those surveyed admitted to not getting their eyes checked.
The following slides take a look at some of the signs and symptoms of some of the most common eye diseases.
Anatomy of the Eye
The anatomy of the eye is complex. The main structures of the eye include:
Cornea: clear tissue in the very front of the eye
Iris: colored part of the eye surrounding the pupil
Pupil: dark hole in the iris that regulates the amount of light going into the eye
Lens: small clear disk inside the eye that focuses light rays onto the retina
Retina: layer that lines the back of the eye, senses light, and creates electrical impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain
Macula: small central area in the retina that allows us to see fine details clearly
Optic nerve: connects the eye to the brain and carries the electrical impulses formed by the retina to the visual cortex of the brain
Vitreous: clear, jelly-like substance that fills the middle of the eye
As you read this slideshow you may need to refer to this illustration for reference.
Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that develop due to elevated intra-ocular pressure (IOP) within the eye. The increased pressure affects the optic nerve and may cause vision loss. Glaucoma is classified either as open-angle (the more common form that is usually painless) or angle-closure glaucoma (which often occurs suddenly and is associated with pain and redness of the eye).
In the early phases of glaucoma there are often no symptoms. By the time vision is affected, the damage is permanent. Progression of glaucoma can be slowed or halted with eye drops, laser treatments, or surgery so early diagnosis is key.
People with a family history of glaucoma, the elderly, and African-Americans are at increased risk of the disease.
A cataract is a painless cloudy lens in the eye that causes blurry vision. It progresses slowly as we age (most people who live long enough will have some cataract-like changes to their cornea). Other causes of cataracts include diabetes, trauma, some medications, and excessive UV light exposure.
Your doctor can see a cataract while doing a routine eye exam. Treatments for cataracts include eyeglasses, magnifying lenses, or surgery. Surgery is curative as the cloudy lens is removed and replaced with an artificial one. The need for surgery and the risks involved should be discussed with your eye doctor.
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)
Age-related macular degeneration is an eye disease with onset at any age, usually after age 60, that progressively destroys the macula, the central portion of the retina that helps with focus. It rarely causes total blindness as only the center of vision is affected.
There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. In wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow, leaking blood and fluid, causing loss of central vision, which may occur quickly. In dry AMD, the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down causing central vision to diminish over time.
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina (tissue in the back of the eye) separates (detaches) from its underlying structures. The buildup of fluid behind the retina is what separates the retina from the back of the eye. Retina detachments are often painless, and symptoms that may be noticed include perception of flashing lights, floaters, or a curtain drawn over your visual field. Risk factors for retinal detachment include being a nearsighted adult age 25 to 50, or an elderly person after cataract surgery. Treatment for a detached retina involves surgery, mostly using lasers, that can improve vision affected by the retinal detachment.
Uveitis is inflammation to the middle layers of the eye (the uvea). The uvea is the layer of the eye that contains the arteries and veins that feed the important structures used in vision. Causes of uveitis include trauma or injury to the eye, infections, or rheumatologic or inflammatory diseases that affect other parts of the body. The main symptom of uveitis is pain in the eyeball. The eye will look red (bloodshot) and you may notice blurred vision, light sensitivity, and spots in your vision.
Treatment for uveitis depends on the cause. Anti-inflammatory or antibiotic drops, along with pain medications may be prescribed.
Severe eye allergies may cause damage to the eye that may threaten eyesight. Allergies can cause chronic inflammation that may permanently damage the cornea. Causes of eye allergies are usually due to seasonal allergies, sensitivities to cosmetics or medications, or dust. Over-the-counter eye drops that contain antihistamines or decongestants are usually helpful. Consult a doctor if OTC remedies do not work, or if you experience pain, discharge, or extreme eye redness.
A corneal ulcer is a small crater (ulcer) on the front part of the eye, usually resulting from infection. Bacteria, viruses, or fungus can cause a corneal ulcer. People who wear contact lenses are at higher risk for corneal ulcers because infectious agents may get trapped behind a lens. Symptoms of a corneal ulcer include pain, intense redness, feeling as if the eye is scratched or something is in the eye, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision. If you suspect a corneal ulcer or have the symptoms of a corneal ulcer and wear contact lenses, see your ophthalmologist immediately. High potency antibiotics and pain medications are the treatments for this condition.
People with diabetes often have problems with their blood vessels throughout their bodies and the eye is no exception. A complication of diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, which affects the blood vessels in the back of the eye, on the retina.
There are two types of diabetic retinopathy:
Nonproliferative retinopathy, the less severe type in which there may be bleeding in the retina and leakage of blood or serum causing a “wet retina.”
Proliferative retinopathy, a more severe type where new abnormal blood vessels grow on the retina. These vessels may bleed into the vitreous (the clear jelly in the center of the eye) and cause visual problems.
Treatment involves laser surgery but damage may be permanent. The best way to prevent diabetic retinopathy is with strict glucose control and a healthy lifestyle (weight loss, dietary restrictions, and exercise).