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Eye problems

eyedrops woman_18_05_12Many eye conditions are age related. However, the majority are treatable, especially if they are caught early.

Cataracts

What are they? - About a third of people over the age of 65 have cataracts in one or both eyes. High alcohol intake, smoking and long-term use of steroids are all factors that boost your susceptibility to cataracts. Diabetes, sustaining eye injuries and other problems with vision also increase the risk, as does family history.

Symptoms - Spots in your vision, unusual glare from sunlight and washed-out colours are all signs of cataracts. If the world is always masked in fog, it’s time to get your eyes checked.

Prevention - Sadly, cataracts are an inevitable part of growing old. And, even worse, no medicine or diet has been found to slow down cataract development or to clear cloudy lenses. While glasses can initially improve vision, they are only a temporary solution to an inevitably declining eye health.

Treatment - Cataract surgery is the most common elective surgical procedure in the UK. Once your cataract is considered to be serious, your GP will refer you to an ophthalmologist. Tests are carried out to determine the power of the implant required to replace your own cloudy lens and help you see clearly again.

Glaucoma

What is it? - Glaucoma is caused by an increase in pressure within your eye, a weakness in the optic nerve, or both. Ageing is a key factor, and five in 100 people over 70 will develop some type of glaucoma. African or black Caribbean ancestry, diabetes, family history and short-sightedness all increase your risk.

Symptoms - Chronic or secondary glaucoma is difficult to spot, as it’s the peripheral vision that is affected first. Central vision, used to focus on an object, is not affected until much later on in the disease, so concern may not be raised until your sight has deteriorated considerably. Acute glaucoma, however, is a swift mover. Loss of sight, severe pain, sickness, red eyes and blurred vision are all indicators that will arise more suddenly.

Prevention - Once over the age of 40, it’s important to have regular eye tests to check for the early signs of glaucoma. If you have a family history of glaucoma, it’s important to be tested regularly from the age of 35.

Treatment – Pressure inside the eye can be lowered with eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. Though these can’t reverse any existing optic nerve damage, the chance of any future sight loss is greatly reduced.

Conjunctivitis

What is it? - Infections and allergic reactions are often caused by eye drops, cosmetics or foreign bodies in the eye such as grit, eyelashes, chemicals from chlorine or dirt trapped on contact lenses.

Symptoms – Warning signs of ‘pink eye’ include eye soreness, which is often described as a gritty or burning sensation, redness of the whites of your eye, blurred vision, excess watering or discharge from your eye and a slight sensitivity to light – natural or artificial.

Prevention – See your GP if your eyes are persistently watery, red or itchy. Replace eye cosmetics, such as mascara, on a regular basis. (We’ve all seen the gammy residue lurking at the bottom of make-up bags.)

Treatment – Antihistamines, antibiotic eye drops such as Optrex Infected Eyes Eye Drops, £5.20, or lubricant such as Lubristil from Moorfields, £8.25, can clear up bacterial infections. If eye tearing becomes too much to handle, lacrimal surgery can be performed to create a new passageway for your waterworks. Once the tear drainage system is back on track, you’ll have a twinkle, instead of a tear, back in your eye in no time.

Styes

What are they? – The swelling on the eyelid is normally caused by an infection of one or more of the eyelash follicles (the root of the eyelash) in the eyelid.

Symptoms – A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a small abscess (a painful collection of pus) on the eyelid or at the base of the lashes. It appears as a sensitive lump on the outside or inside of the eyelid.

Prevention – Good eye hygiene is essential to prevent styes occurring. Try to keep skin on the eyelids and lashes clear of crusting or stickiness.

Treatment – Most styes go away by themselves within a few days or weeks, so treatment isn’t always necessary. Try holding a hot compress against the eyelid for five to 10 minutes to warm the fluids trapped inside the stye – it’s a simple, free way to encourage the fluids to drain away. If the infection spreads or is severe, then go to your GP who may prescribe a course of antibiotics to combat it.

Floaters

What are they? - Floaters occur as part of the natural ageing process or as a symptom of posterior vitreous detachment (PVD), a common condition in the over-65s that occurs due to changes in the vitreous humour (the substance in the middle of the eye). Injury to the eye can also result in floaters. Symptoms Floaters are small shapes seen floating in someone’s field of vision. Occurring in a variety of forms, such as dots, circles, lines and cobwebs, floaters are normally grey and semi transparent, and can move around when the eye moves.

Prevention – Sadly individuals must accept the appearance of floaters as part and parcel of the ageing process. Because sudden appearances or an increase in floaters can be a symptom of retinal detachment, individuals must monitor changes in eyesight carefully and seek help if necessary.

Treatment – Floaters rarely cause any significant problems, so don’t require treatment. Moving the eye up and down may help move floaters that are directly in the line of vision, but generally the brain learns to ignore them. In severe cases where floaters significantly affect a person’s vision, a surgical procedure known as a vitrectomy can replace the vitreous humour and any floating debris in the eye with saline solution.

Dry eyes

What are they? – Dry eye syndrome, which is also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is an eye disease that appears when the eyes don’t produce enough lubricating tears, or tears evaporate too quickly. If left for a long period, tiny abrasions can form on the surface of the eye. Ageing is one of the most common causes of dry eyes, as tear production naturally decreases with age.

Symptoms – Dry eyes, inflammation (a red and swollen eye area), burning, itching and blurred vision are all symptoms of this common condition. Although the condition may be slightly painful, it shouldn’t cause real visual impairment unless severe dryness is left untreated.

Prevention – As environmental factors, illnesses, side effects of medicines, hormonal changes and ageing can all contribute to dry eye syndrome, often there’s no single identifiable cause. Good eye hygiene, eating a diet rich in omega-3 fats and protection from wind, hot air and smoke can all assist in preventing the eye from drying out.

Treatment – Lubricating ointments or tear-replenishing eye drops, such as Artelac Rebalance, £9.75, can be bought from all good pharmacies. Surgery to seal up your tear ducts is also available if all else fails, so tears will not drain into the ducts, meaning your eyes will remain moist.


This article was first published in at home with Lorraine Kelly in April 2012. [Read the digital edition here]


Photograph: Getty Images

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