Eye checks are not just about seeing what you can see up close and far away. It is important to check the health of the eye too. Testing can detect a range of conditions including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes or diabetes, cholesterol and more in the retinal blood vessels. Although you will need to see your doctor for treatment for most of these conditions, sometimes it’s an optometrist who spots the first signs.
When it comes to specific eye issues, you may have heard of glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and possibly eye floaters, but many of these conditions are little-understood until a person actually develops them.
Macular degeneration covers a range of conditions affecting the central retina (the macula), which is at the back of the eye. Conditions only affecting the macula don’t lead to total blindness; instead, they impact central vision, leaving peripheral vision intact. Some symptoms to look out for include difficulty with reading, distortion – where lines may appear wavy or bent – and problems distinguishing faces. You can have early signs of macular disease without knowing it.
Glaucoma is another leading causes of blindness. In the case of glaucoma, the optic nerve is gradually damaged, due to an increase in intraocular pressure (the fluid pressure of the eye), leading to sight loss. Although not reversible, glaucoma can be successfully managed with the right therapies.
Cataracts are a clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. They are treated by removing this cloudy lens through surgery. Most people will start to develop cataracts if they live long enough. But cataracts are not limited to the elderly. Factors that increase the possibility of early-forming cataracts include long and unprotected exposure to UV sunlight, smoking, diabetes, eye injuries, radiation and longstanding use of corticosteroid medication. Transport workers who work outdoors may be more prone to cataracts, that’s why it’s important to protect your eyes with sunglasses.
Eye Floaters are small spots in your field of vision that seem to disappear when you look at them. Some look like small dots, while others appear like threads or cobwebs. These specks are debris that float around in the vitreous humour (the clear, jelly-like substance inside the eyeball) which often develops due to age-related changes. They move when your eyeball moves. Generally eye floaters don’t appear until after age 50 and long-standing eye floaters are harmless. However, a sudden onset or increase in floaters can be an indication of a more serious condition. It is important to contact your optometrist immediately if you notice new floaters, flashing lights or both. Your optometrist will examine and assess your eyes and refer you to an ophthalmologist if required.
*Macular Disease Foundation (www.mdfoundation.com.au)