They don’t call the eyes the ‘window to the soul’ for no reason. Having poor vision affects every aspect of your life, from reading to driving, walking, picking up something, even watching your favourite television programme.
Eye problems can manifest themselves at any age in many forms and in severity. Most people seek medical help when they begin experiencing eye-related problems because it affects their daily life.
The problem is that the eyes are incredibly hardy organs and can take a substantial amount of abuse before they finally begin to display symptoms of distress. This can sometimes be problematic for people who have developed serious eye problems without realising it.
The rule of thumb is to check your eyes annualy after the age of 40 to determine your eye health, advises Dr Meena Sivanantharajah Kandiah, consultant opthalmologist from Assunta Hospital. “Don’t wait because it may be too late to save your sight,” she adds.
She also lists the 5 most common eye problems she sees in her practice:
1) BLURRED VISION
The two main causes of blurred vision are refractive error or cataracts. Refractive errors in the eye can be corrected easily with spectacles. Children with parents who are short-sighted are at higher risk of having refractive errors.
A) REFRACTIVE ERRORS
Parents should suspect that their child has visual problems if they constantly complain of not being able to see the white board, if they are always squinting to focus, tending to tilt their heads to a side to see something or sit too close to the television. Every child should have a vision check at the age of 5, followed by 7, to determine if the child needs spectacles.
If a child is noted to have poor vision, it is advisble to see an opthamologist rather then go to an optician first, which is a common practice in Malaysia. This is essential to rule out other causes of blurred vision. For all adults above 40, the eye exhibits a progressive decrease in ability to focus on near objects. This is a normal ageing process due to the loss of elasticity of the lens inside the eye. The earliest sign is eye strain on reading or sms’ing, and this is easily remedied by wearing reading glasses.
Spectacles today are not only for reading books; there is also text messages, computer screens and other gadgets that require good sight. Not many are aware of the ‘computer multifocals’, spectacles with lower power than reading glasses that are specially designed for computer use.
The other common cause of blurred vision, especially in the older age group are cataracts, where the lens in the eye becomes cloudy. However, cataract can present at a younger age in short sighted people and diabetics. To prevent or delay the onset of cataract, everyone should wear sunglasses outdoors. Cataract surgery has now been revolutionised with the advent of phaco surgery and multi-focal intraocular lenses.
2) DRY AND TIRED EYES
Many modernites face problems with dry or tired eyes, some so severe that they experience sharp burning pain, a gritty sensation or pricking pain in their eyes. The main causes for dry eyes are computer/gadget overuse, women over the age of 40, contact lens use and patients who have undergone refelctive surgery.
In fact, there is now an eye condition termed “computer vision syndrome”. The fatigue happens because computer screens use pixels or tiny dots that connect together to form images, unlike words in print that are joined whole. This stressses the eyes more because they need to work harder to read and decipher the texts on screens.
Ladies over forty tend to experience dry eyes because of the dipping levels of estrogen, the female hormone, that is responsible for tear film stability. This can be managed by taking frequent breaks when on the computer, limiting screen time and lubricating the eyes with artificial tears.
3) DIABETIC RETINOPATHY
Most diabetics are shocked when they are told that their failing sight or irreversible blindness is caused by their diabetes. Diabetes damages the small blood vessels at the back of the eyes, the retina. The retina/nerve of the eye becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients. This causes leakages of blood and fat, and during the later stages can cause bleeding within the eye.
Athough surgery can be performed to clear the bleeding, vision will never be the same. All diabetics, whether adequately controlled or uncontrolled, should have an annual eye check to prevent sudden, irreversible blindness.
4) EYE INFECTION/ REDEYE
The most common eye infection is viral conjunctivitis, especially among children and people with impaired immunity. Conjunctivitis is easily transmitted by direct contact in public areas such as swimming pools, children play areas in shopping malls and play-schools or nurseries. Children or adults who have eye infections such as conjunctivitis should be quarantined to avoid spreading the virus.
The other group of people to get frequent red eyes are contact lens wearers. All contact lens wearers with a red eye should see an opthamologist.
Poor hygiene and contact lens overwear can cause a corneal infection and there are cases where the infection worsened despite treatment and the eyes had to be remove to prevent the infection from spreading to the brain. Fortunately, these cases are rare.
Styes and chalazions are also common eye infections that happen when the oil glands at the base of the eye lash gets clogged with oil, dirt or eye makeup. They are also more commonly seen in diabetics and people who are under stress or lack sleep.
To reduce the incidence of eye infections, practise good hygiene such as not touching your eyes without washing your hands first, and not rubbing your eyes.
Glaucoma refers to a group of eye conditions that leads to damage of the optic nerve. In most cases, the damage is due to increased pressure in the eye. It is the second most common cause of blindness in the world.
The most common type of Glaucoma is open angle Glaucoma. It is also called the ‘sneak thief of sight’. The scary thing is most patients have no symptoms at all, and when they do develop symptoms, it is usually at an advanced stage.
Once the nerve is damaged, it cannot be ‘repaired’, hence the importance to screen all over the age of 40. All patients with glaucoma should advise their siblings to have their eyes tested. All patients with glaucoma should advise their siblings to have their eyes tested.
The other common group of patients seen in practice are those that develop Glaucoma due to ‘steroid abuse’. The inadvertent use of steroid eye drops to treat eye infections and eye allergy has caused many patients to go blind.
Regular eye examinations are mandatory over the age of 40, especially for individuals in the high risk group. Many conditions are treatable if detected early. But at the end of the day, prevention is better then blindness.