Eye problems often hide in plain sight, damaging your delicate visual system before you notice any symptoms. Regular eye exams can help your eye doctor spot common eye conditions and treat them before you lose vision. Here are some of the problems he or she seeks—and the therapies that relieve them.
Nearsighted, farsighted, or both, these vision-blurring disorders affect more Americans than any other eye problem. They occur when the shape of the eye interferes with the focus of light on the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. The loss of focus that comes with aging—presbyopia—also falls into this category. Glasses, contacts, or laser surgery could improve vision for 11 million people nationwide.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes damage to your macula—a small part of your eye responsible for sharp vision. Blurriness and dark spots may appear in the center of your vision. In one type of AMD, called wet AMD, new blood vessels grow under the macula. This makes straight lines appear wavy. Supplements, injections, or laser treatment can slow AMD’s progress and preserve your remaining sight.
Also called “lazy eye,” amblyopia is the most common vision problem in children. Communication problems between the brain and the eyes reduce vision in just one eye. This can occur because of the eye’s position or because one eye has a more severe refractive error than the other. Patches or eyedrops can temporarily weaken the strong eye, restoring balanced vision. Amblyopia should be treated during childhood.
A normal eye continually produces and leaks out a small amount of fluid each day. For reasons doctors don’t understand, people with glaucoma develop a blockage in this drainage system. Pressure builds up in the eye, damaging the optic nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma can blind you. But comprehensive eye exams can catch it early and eyedrops or other treatments protect your sight.
Your retinas contain many tiny blood vessels. If your blood sugar stays high over time, these vessels swell and weaken, interfering with your vision. You might not notice this at first—that’s why everyone with diabetes should have a complete eye exam yearly. Over time, you might see spots, flashing lights, or lose part or all of your vision.
Allergies occur when the tissues in your eyes react to something in the air around you. Pollen, mold, and dust often trigger this response. Your eyes then produce a substance called histamine, which causes redness, itching, teariness, and burning. Avoiding allergens—for instance, by checking pollen counts before heading outside—and using special eyedrops can ease your symptoms.
Like the lens of a camera, your eye’s lens focuses your vision. Clumps of protein called cataracts cloud your lenses, blurring the images that reach your brain. Most cataracts occur with aging. But they can also develop after eye surgery, as a result of eye injuries, or even before birth. If cataracts interfere with your daily life, you can have surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.
Pink, itchy eyes serve as the hallmark sign of this common infection. More properly called conjunctivitis, it affects the conjunctiva, the thin, clear tissue that lines your eyelid and the whites of your eyes. Viruses, bacteria, allergens and irritants, such as smog, can cause pink eye. Viral and bacterial pink eye spread quickly from person to person. In most cases, the infection clears up over time. For severe cases caused by bacteria, you may need an antibiotic.
With each blink, lubricating tears spread over the surface of your eye. But for a variety of reasons, some people don’t produce enough tears or their tears evaporate too quickly. Dry eye can feel like there’s something in your eye, or you may feel a scratching sensation. Drops, medications, and changes to your lifestyle—like cutting back on screen time—can help.