The last 20 years have seen a major improvement in eye technology, yet there are an estimated 285 million people worldwide who suffer from various eye conditions. According to a recent WHO study, approximately 39 million of these people are either blind or have low vision. The reality is that 80% of visual impairment can be treated or prevented, highlighting the importance of regular eye examinations.
Why you and your children should go for regular eye examinations
In addition to examining the quality of your vision and whether you need a new or adjusted prescription for spectacles or contact lenses, an eye examination includes a general health check for eye injuries, abnormalities and early signs of serious eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Optometrists are often the first health practitioners to identify some of the systemic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol during an eye examination.
Here are some common eye problems and conditions:
Conjunctivitis (pink eye) – Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the white outer surface of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids. Usually caused by a bacterial and contagious infection or an allergic reaction, the eye appears red or pink. The eyes are itchy and irritated and a discharge may appear in both eyes.
Vitreous floaters – Floaters are small, protein ‘fibre’ particles that form in the vitreous or jelly part of the eyes. They appear as thin threads, or cobweb-like images that occasionally drift across the line of vision. What you see isn’t actually the floater itself, but the shadow these ‘fibres’ cast onto the retina. Although most people have floaters in their eyes, they are unaware of them. In severe cases, floaters can be tiny blood particles. This can happen when the vitreous or jelly is pulling on the retina, at the back of the eye, which can cause a small tear. Normally floaters are harmless, but a sudden onset of floaters always requires a full eye examination to rule out any complications. The vitreous slowly shrinks with age, causing it to become a bit stringy. About one-quarter of people have some vitreous shrinkage with floaters by their 60s.
Blepharitis – Commonly known as the inflammation of the eyelid, blepharitis causes eyelids to swell, itch and turn red. The condition can be accompanied by a burning sensation in the eyes and crusting or flakes at the base of the eyelashes too. It can be caused by bacteria at the base of one’s eyelashes or skin problems.
People with oily skin (or who have problems with oil glands in their eyelids), dandruff or rosacea are more prone to blepharitis. Although there is no distinct treatment for blepharitis, the problem can be alleviated with antibiotics and good hygiene. Blepharitis is more common in adults in their 50s and older, but can affect people of all ages. It is not contagious but can be experienced over long periods, or even permanently.
Corneal Ulcer – A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea which is often caused by an eye infection. People who wear soft contact lenses that have expired, disposable contact lenses for extended periods or unsterilised contact lenses, are at an increased risk. Dry eyes, an eye injury, inflammatory disorders and a Vitamin A deficiency can also be causes. Symptoms include redness, severe pain, tearing, blurred vision, swollen eyelids, the feeling of something in the eye, sensitivity to light and a white spot on the cornea. Corneal ulcers may cause permanent damage or vision loss if not detected and treated immediately.
Ocular melanoma – This is a type of cancer that can develop inside the eye or on the conjunctiva. In the eye, it will develop in the cells that produce colour pigment. Ocular melanoma is rare, although it is the most common eye cancer in adults. Eye melanomas can be difficult to detect as they form in the part of the eye which isn’t visible when looking in a mirror. It doesn’t present early signs or symptoms either – another good reason for regular eye examinations.
An eye examination can also detect other serious eye conditions which can lead to vision loss. Click here to find out more about these conditions.