How much do you know about your eye health? Eye specialists Rosie Gavzey and Professor Winfried Amoaku chat about what can go wrong, and what tests will pick up problems.
- Ophthalmologists: medical doctors who have specialist training. They diagnose and treat eye conditions, and perform eye surgery in hospital.
- Orthoptists: diagnose and treat vision defects and abnormalities, like squints. Often work alongside an ophthalmologist.
- Optometrists: examine your eyes for vision problems, and advise, prescribe and fit glasses or contacts.
Q I wear contact lenses for short-sightedness, but now need help with reading, too. Are varifocals the only answer?
A You could also try wearing a different prescription lens in each eye; one for close and one for distant vision. An optometrist will help identify your ‘dominant’ eye, usually the one used for distance vision. Most people get accustomed to using one eye for close viewing and one for further away, and some wearers find it more effective than multifocal lenses, or bifocal or varifocal glasses.
Q I have a dark shape that drifts across my vision in one eye. Should I be concerned?
A This is a ‘floater’ and can appear as a dot, strand or blobby shape, and is usually nothing to worry about. The vitreous jelly, which helps maintain the eye’s shape, has strands of a protein called collagen, which become more visible to us as we age. These strands swirl gently when the eye moves, giving rise to the perception of floaters. But sudden increases in the number of floaters especially if you also see white flashing lights, or even flashing lights on their own – can be a sign that the vitreous is separating from the retina. If this happens, go straight to a hospital emergency room and ask to see an eye doctor to ensure you are not developing retinal detachment.
Q I have a tiny cataract in one eye – will I need an operation to fix it?
A Cataracts usually grow slowly, causing gradually increasing blurred vision, and sometimes glare from lights. They are very common, especially in those over 65. Smokers and diabetics are at an increased risk, too. The good news: if you do develop a cataract, the lens of your eye can be replaced with an artificial one under anaesthetic, restoring sight. Cataract surgery is one of the most successful operations – up to 90% of patients have useful vision restored.
Q Why do they puff air into your eye during tests?
A It’s to measure the pressure inside your eye (intraocular pressure), and is one of the tests used to spot symptoms of glaucoma, a term for a group of eye conditions characterised by damage to the optic nerve, and is associated with increased pressure in the eye. Age, close family history of the disease, diabetes and being of African origin can all increase your risk of developing glaucoma. Treatment aims to reduce pressure in the eye, initially with eye drops. Optic-nerve damage can’t be repaired, but early diagnosis and treatment helps to keep the damage to a minimum.
Q Since I turned 40, my eyes often feel irritated. Why is that?
A A drop in oestrogen levels during perimenopause can make eyes feel gritty, tight or sore. Both hormones and the nervous system play roles in tear production. Some medicines can also cause dry eyes, including antihistamines, antidepressants, and beta blockers, so consult your GP if you are on any meds. Mild to moderate cases can usually be treated with liquid drops. Consider swapping contacts for glasses for a while, and moisten dry air caused by air conditioning by using a humidifier, opening windows for a while, or lightly spraying your curtains with water. There is some evidence that eating foods rich in omega 3s can help prevent dry-eye syndrome. Surgery may be an option for severe cases of dry eyes, common in the 60-plus age group.
Take Care Of Your Eye Health
Smokers are more likely to lose their sight and are at a greater risk of macular degeneration and cataracts
Have an eye test every two years, or more frequently, if necessary.
By Health Writer Belinda dos Santos. Additional words Laurelle Williams