Your eyes are priceless organs. They allow you to enjoy simple pleasures such as watching a movie or gazing at the stars. Many daily activities like driving your car would also not be possible without your sight. Don’t take your eyes for granted.
Eyes gather information that provides your brain with over 80 percent of your knowledge and controls 80 percent of your body’s actions. They are your most effective link with the world around you. Here is some basic information about the eye, common vision problems and suggestions to help you protect your eyesight.
The Body’s Camera
Your eye is a living camera. It constantly takes pictures of what you see and processes the images almost simultaneously to provide you with your sense of sight. Like a camera, your eyes have a lens, a shutter (the pupil) that controls the amount of light coming in, a dark chamber through which light rays pass, and film (the retina) that collects light rays to create images that are processed by the brain. The cornea helps focus light into the eyes, while the lens focuses light onto the retina. The optic nerve transmits the image to the brain.
The shape of your eyeball allows the lens to focus light onto the retina to provide 20/20 vision, a comparison term which means that a person can see at 20 feet what normally can be seen sharply and clearly at that distance. It does not imply perfect vision because other factors such as distortion, eye coordination and depth perception affect a person’s overall vision ability.
Warning Signs of Eye Trouble
Protect your eyesight by noticing early symptoms of eye trouble and seeing a doctor about them.
Any of the following symptoms require a visit to an eye doctor since it may indicate serious eye trouble:
• Redness or pain in the eyes
• Excessive tearing
• Painful or swollen eyelids
• Extreme sensitivity to light
• Partial loss of vision
• Blurred vision
• A sudden appearance of flashes of light and floating spots in your field of vision
Vision problems may be present in children who blink frequently, rub their eyes, tilt their head to one side, stumble over small objects, bump into walls or hold books close to their eyes when reading.
Common Vision Problems
Differences in the length or shape of your cornea, eyeball or lens can cause vision problems such as:
Astigmatism – caused by an irregular shape of the corneas, which results in blurred or distorted images at any distance. Vision is altered in the same way it would be if viewed in a mirror with a wavy surface.
Farsightedness or hyperopia – a result of a shorter distance between the lens and the retina, which thereby focuses light rays from close objects to a spot behind the retina. People with hyperopia can see objects clearly at a distance, but not up close.
Nearsightedness or myopia – A myopic eyeball is elongated, which increases the distance from the lens to the retina. As a result, objects can be seen clearly at close range, but not at a distance. According to the National Eye Institute, 33.1 percent of Americans are nearsighted.
Presbyopia – close objects cannot be seen clearly because the lens loses its flexibility to focus light from these objects onto the retina. It is usually found in persons older than 40 years old.
The conditions mentioned previously can often be addressed with corrective lenses (i.e., eyeglasses, bifocals or contact lenses) prescribed by an eye doctor. Depending on your medical history, surgery may also be a possibility. For example, laser in-situ keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery could help people who suffer from astigmatism, farsightedness or nearsightedness. LASIK surgery uses a laser to reshape the cornea to properly focus the light onto the retina. While other surgical techniques are available to reshape the cornea, there are risks and benefits associated with each procedure. Your doctor can help you decide the best course of action.
Other Common Eye Conditions and Diseases:
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of vision loss in adults over age 60 and is caused by deterioration of the retina. There is no cure for AMD, but it can be treated with vitamins, laser therapy and medications. It can be diagnosed during a routine eye exam.
Cataracts occur when the lens inside the eye becomes cloudy, resulting in a noticeable loss of vision. Some symptoms are blurred or hazy vision, spots in front of the eyes or a feeling of having a film over the eyes. It can be detected during an examination by an eye doctor and surgically removed.
Color blindness, an inherited condition, is the inability to distinguish between certain colors. It is more common among men. Color blind people tend to confuse reds and greens and/or have trouble seeing blues and yellows. Color blindness cannot be treated and color blind people learn to adjust to this condition to lead normal lives.
Crossed eyes (or strabismus) occurs when two eyes are not properly aligned with each other due to poor eye muscle control. Since the eyes are not used together, a person may experience double images, a lack of depth perception or other problems. This can also lead to “lazy eye.”
Floaters, also known as vitreous floaters or eye spots, are specks that appear in your field of vision. Floaters are typically harmless, but may be a result of more complicated issues involving recent eye surgeries, diabetes or nearsightedness. If necessary, laser treatments are available to remove eye floaters.
Glaucoma results from increased pressure in the eyeball that causes damage to the optic nerve. It is the leading cause of adult blindness, frequently occurring in people over age 40, and often there are no warning signs. More advanced cases involve blurred vision, loss of side vision, rainbow colored halos around lights and pain or redness in the eye. It is detected through a test called tonometry, which measures pressure in the eye. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. Early detection reduces the risk of damage to the eye.
“Lazy eye” or amblyopia is a condition in which one eye is dominant due to poor vision in the other eye that may not have developed normal sight during early childhood. The symptoms are not obvious, but several treatments exist and a full recovery is possible with an early diagnosis.
Pink eye or conjunctivitis is caused by a virus or bacteria that irritates the membrane lining the eyes as well as the eyelid. Signs of pink eye include red, itchy and teary eyes as well as discharge from the eye. It is very contagious, but can be treated with antibiotics, eyedrops or ointment. An infected person should limit contact with others and use separate towels and washcloths to keep from passing on the infection.
Stye is a swelling on the eyelid rim caused by infection and is usually filled with pus. It eventually comes to head like a pimple and dries up with no further complications.
If you are under the care of an eye doctor, continue receiving regular eye exams as prescribed by your physician. Otherwise, the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends:
• Children, ages 3 and older, should have their eyes screened every one to two years during regular pediatric appointments.
• Young adults with healthy eyes visit an eye doctor for a complete eye exam once between ages 20 and 29 and at least twice between ages 30 and 39. They should also visit their eye doctor if they experience changes in vision; pain; dry, itchy or burning eyes; flashes of light; or spots, lines, ghost-like or distorted images.
• At age 40, adults should receive a baseline eye disease screening. The eye doctor will recommend the intervals for future exams based on the initial screening.
• Seniors age 65 and older should have complete eye exams every one to two years.
Protecting Your Vision
Every year, more than 2.5 million eye injuries occur in the U.S. and about 50,000 people become visually impaired as a result. Most of these incidents can be prevented with proper eye care. Here are a few suggestions to help keep your eyes healthy:
• If you need glasses, wear them.
• Watch TV wisely:
- Avoid watching television in total darkness or a room that is too bright. Daylight conditions are best.
- Position the television screen so that it does not reflect light or glare from other light sources.
- Refrain from sitting at an extreme angle to the screen.
- Don’t sit too close to the television, but watch it at a comfortable distance where you can read text without squinting.
• Implement the 20-20-20 rule when working on a computer to avoid eye fatigue. Every 20 minutes, look away from your computer monitor at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
• Eat healthful foods. Avoiding saturated fats and eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed and cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and halibut) and antioxidants (leafy greens such as kale, spinach and collard greens) can help prevent future eye trouble. Health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, have been linked to eye trouble.
• Protect your eyes from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Tinted glasses are not enough. Make sure your lenses have a UV coating that protects from the sun’s harmful rays. Sun exposure could cause cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and pterygium (growth on the eye’s surface which requires surgery to remove). Wearing glasses to protect your eyes from wind and dust will also prevent eye problems.
• Don’t smoke. Along with the many health risks associated with smoking, it could also damage your eyes. Smoking can constrict blood vessels and deprive your eyes of oxygen.
• Be careful when working with household chemicals and ensure they do not make contact with your eyes. Many chemicals can cause major damage to your eyes, including blindness.
• Wear protective eyewear to shield your eyes from flying debris when working with tools or machinery or playing sports.
• Try not to use over-the-counter eye remedies for long periods of time unless medically advised.
If you experience an eye injury, visit your eye doctor or physician as soon as possible. A delayed response can increase your chance for permanent damage. The following tips can help protect your vision after an injury.
• Do not touch, rub or apply pressure to your eye after any eye injury.
• Do not apply any medication or ointment – visit your doctor first.
• Try to blink or tear any foreign particles out. If the particle remains, keep your eye closed until you see a physician.
• Do not remove any objects that have lodged in the eye. Also, avoid taking blood-thinners, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, which may increase bleeding.
• For chemical burns, immediately flush your eye with water.
• After receiving a blow to the eye, apply a cold compress to reduce swelling.
Your eyes are irreplaceable and deserve the best care possible. Healthy eyes can help you get the most enjoyment out of life and help you see well for many years to come.