A to Z of eye health
Past the age of 40, most of us start to notice our eyesight changing but which are the symptoms we really need to worry about, and what can we do to protect our eye health
A is for age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Look out for: blank spots when you look through one eye. AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the Western world, with over 600,000 sufferers in the UK. Experts say lack of awareness of symptoms – such as the ability to see fine detail in the centre of your vision – means many people are not getting the treatment they need. Dr Sue Blakeney, optometric advisor at the College of Optometrists, says: ‘There are two varieties of AMD – ‘wet’ and ‘dry’. Wet AMD can come on quickly but can be treated with injections into the eyeball – which is not as bad as it sounds, and far better than going blind! However, there is currently no treatment for dry AMD, which can progress slowly.’
B is for blepharitis
Look out for: sore, itchy eyes. Blepharitis means inflammation of the eyelid rims. Although the condition is incurable, the symptoms can be kept in check, so you don’t constantly feel there’s something in your eye. Blephasol wipes (£7.99 from opticians) are designed for cleaning and hydrating this delicate area. Or you can use a homemade solution of 1tsp sodium bicarbonate in a cup of warm water. If your eyes don’t respond, see your GP about antibiotic eye drops – blepharitis can also be caused by bacterial infection.
C is for cataracts
Look out for: misty vision. If you take steroids, or you have diabetes, you are more likely to develop cataracts – which cause the lens to slowly go opaque. Nearly everyone gets them in old age, says Dr Blakeney. ‘Fortunately the treatment – in which the cloudy lens is replaced by a clear implant – is spectacularly successful, with only a few patients suffering complications.’
D is for diabetes
Diabetes puts your sight at risk and is the main cause of blindness in under 50s, according to Dr Blakeney. ‘The biggest problem is diabetic retinopathy, caused by the blood vessels leaking into the retina. Be aware of early diabetes symptoms – feeling thirstier and needing to pass water more than usual – and have regular eye checks. Controlling your diabetes will reduce your risk, but laser treatment to seal the blood vessels may be necessary to halt the disease once it’s established.’
E is for eye supplements
Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C and E, zinc and DHA target eye health – but Barbara McLaughlan, policy and campaigns manager for eye health at RNIB says: ‘The consensus among us professionals is that if you don’t have an eye disease then, as long as your diet includes sufficient fresh fruit and veg, you won’t need supplements.’
F is for fat
We all need some fat in our diet to effectively process and deliver the vitamins we need for eye health – but we should not allow ourselves to become too fat. Obesity increases our risk of AMD, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy.
G is for glaucoma
Look out for: blind spots or halos around street lights. Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure due to a build-up of fluid when the eye’s drainage apparatus becomes blocked. ‘Chronic glaucoma is most common – it’s painless and comes on slowly, usually affecting one eye first. It can be treated with eye drops to prevent further damage,’ says Dr Blakeney. ‘Acute glaucoma is caused by a very sudden blockage and causes pain, misty vision and a red eye, and can only be treated with laser surgery.
H is for harmful rays
Because our eyes rely on light to work, a lot of UV light is absorbed by the structures of the eye without any damage. However, studies have shown that high exposure to UVA and UVB rays from sunlight encourages cataracts. Ask your optometrist to make sure your glasses include a UV filter and only buy sunglasses carrying the CE mark and British Standard BSEN 1836:1997.
I is for iritis
‘Inflammation of the iris – the coloured part of your eye – causes similar symptoms to glaucoma and can be quite hard to diagnose,’ says Dr Blakeney. ‘You’re more at risk if you have another autoimmune disease (eg rheumatoid arthritis), but it’s treatable with drugs.’
J is for ‘jerky eyes’ (nystagmus)
Nystagmus is an uncontrolled movement of the eyes, usually from side to side. It’s extremely rare – affecting between 1 in 1000 and 1 in 2000 of us. If it develops later in life, it may be a symptom of a serious condition, such as stroke or MS.
K is for keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry-eye syndrome)
If you have sticky eyes, particularly in the morning, and watering eyes when exposed to wind, you may have dry-eye syndrome, caused by ageing, hormonal changes and side effects from medicines. Your GP will ask about your family history, whether you work on a computer, and about any medicines you’re taking. Treatments range from artificial tears and ointments to moisture-chamber spectacles, which wrap around your eyes like goggles, helping to retain moisture and protecting eyes from irritants.
L is for lutein
This carotenoid – found in yellow peppers, mango, bilberries, and green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, chard and broccoli – has been linked to a lower risk of AMD.
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