Eye sight is surprisingly overlooked when it comes to personal health. As a society, we are constantly reminded about our heart rate, back problems, digestive maladies, etc. – just about every conceivable potential issue with regard to how our body functions. Yet when it comes to our eyesight, the importance is always presented with an emphasis on fashion – colored contacts, designer sunglasses, etc. The truth is, your eyes are just as open to health issues as any other part or system related to your body, even though they are not as commonly associated with compromised health as the rest of you, they are equally as important to your wellbeing and must be looked after and checked up on with the same diligence you would afford your lower back, knees, neck, hearing, etc.
The physiology and anatomy of the eye is complex, for such a small organ it houses an incredible amount. And all of the eye’s internal and external complexities are subject to a number of common disorders. These common disorders can be related to shape, color, size, function or position and each disorder have symptoms to help in identification. Below is a listing of the most common eye disorders that can affect most people, along with symptoms related to each one as well as a brief description. Please note: this is intended to be a guide to general self-diagnosis, if you suspect something may be wrong with one or both of your eyes you should schedule an appointment your local general health practitioner or with your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
Cataracts – A condition that presents itself as clouding of the lens which effects vision. It is not exclusive to both eyes; it can occur in either the left or right. Commonly a condition that is a result of aging, (by the age of 80 more than half of all Americans either have cataracts or have surgery because of them), cataracts can also occur post-surgery for other eye conditions, they can also develop as a symptom of diabetes or prolonged steroid use, can occur due to trauma and exposure to radiation. Also, cataracts can be congenital.
Symptoms – Cloudy or blurred vision, colors appear faded, “halo” effect during night vision, double vision or multiple images and poor night vision. These symptoms are good indicators that cataracts may be forming, but they are also associated with a number of other eye disorders. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment.
Glaucoma – damage to the optic nerve due to pressure on the eye (Intraocular Pressure). Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. There are four types of glaucoma – open angle (chronic), angle-closure (acute), secondary and congenital and each have their own symptoms.
Symptoms – Open Angle (chronic): slow loss of peripheral vision, loss of vision; Angle-Closure (acute): sudden onset of sever eye pain, rainbow-like halo’s around lights, redness and a swollen feeling, cloudy vision; Congenital: cloudiness in front of the eye, red eye, enlargement of one or both eyes, tearing, sensitivity to light, congenital glaucoma symptoms can be spotted within a few months of birth.
Conjunctivitis – A very common ailment also known as “pink eye”, conjunctivitis can affect just about anyone and most Americans at one point or another will experience the condition themselves. The thin membrane that covers the eye’s outer surface is called the conjunctiva, conjunctivitis is an infection of this layer due to bacterial or viral infection, and allergic reactions to irritants can also trigger the condition. It is an infection and proper care must be taken to treat the condition to not only relieve the sufferer but to also prevent infecting others. It is not as serious as the other conditions mentioned above, but it is contagious and can cause a significant amount of discomfort.
Symptoms – sclera (the “white” of your eye) appears pink or bloodshot, this is due to arterial dilation in response to the infection. Swelling of the eyelid, watery and pus like discharge (this has a habit of gluing the eye shut), itching and swelling. A cold patch over the afflicted eye will alleviate swelling and itching but is only a pain reliever and you should see a doctor immediately to receive proper medication after an official examination. Alert your practitioner if the symptoms last longer than five days.
Less common ailments and conditions
Amblyopia – Commonly known as “lazy eye”, this condition is the most prevalent from of vision impairment in children. It is a condition in which one of the eyes is not working in unison with the brain, the eye appears normal but it does not function correctly due to the brain favoring the other eye. Causes can be an imbalance in the positioning of the eyes (strabismus, see below), blockage of the eye due to trauma, cataract or compromised (“drooping”) eyelid and anything that may interfere with the critical development period (birth to age 6). Early detection and treatment offer the best chance of recovering vision in the affected eye via glasses, drops, therapy or using an eye patch.
Strabismus – an imbalance in the position of the two eyes, the condition can result in the eyes crossing towards each other, or outwards and away from each other. Basically, it is a lack of coordination between the eyes which causes them to look in different directions which renders them unable to focus correctly on a single point. When diagnosed in children, the cause is largely unknown. It is present at or shortly after birth and it is not a condition that a child will “outgrow”. Various modalities of vision therapy can greatly improve the condition and assist in restoring vision acuity, treatment and diagnosis is key.
Your best defense against the more common eye problems and ailments is to have regular checkups – some eye disorders and disease do not have easily discernible symptoms, some present no symptoms at all and early detection and treatment could prevent potential vision loss. Make an appointment to see an eye care professional right away if you have any of the symptoms listed above or if you suspect that anything at all is amiss with your vision and eyes.
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