2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss, and a recent report suggested that for half of them, it was avoidable.
But how can you best protect your eye health? And what symptoms should you watch out for?
In this article, King Edward VII’s Hospital Consultant Ophthalmologist, Mr Saruban Pasu, explains the structure of the eye, highlights the links between certain eye symptoms and related conditions, shares his top tips to maintain good eye health, and advises when you should go for treatment.
Structure of the eye
The structure and function of the eye is multifaceted.
Each eye is in a constant process of focusing on objects up-close and in the distance. The eye transforms light into nerve signals, which are then processed in the brain for visual perception.
Although it’s only about an inch in length, the eye is made up of a number of intricate structures:
Functions of parts of the eye
Clear front window of the eye – transmits and focuses light into the eye.
Coloured part of the eye – helps to regulate the amount of light that enters.
Dark aperture in the iris – determines how much light is let into the eye.
Transparent structure inside the eye – focuses light rays onto the retina.
Nerve layer that lines the back of the eye, senses light, and creates electrical impulses that travel through the optic nerve to the brain.
Small central area in the retina that contains special light-sensitive cells and allows us to see fine details clearly.
- Optic nerve
Connects the eye to the brain and carries the electrical impulses formed by the retina to the visual cortex of the brain.
- Vitreous body
Clear, jelly-like substance that fills the middle of the eye.
Eye symptoms and related conditions
A lot of eye conditions actually start out with no symptoms and can be quite painless. You might not see any change in your vision until the problem has become advanced.
However, there are certain warning signs that you may be able to look out for. The human eye can respond in a number of ways when diseased: it can stop seeing or become red, painful or watery. Often a number of these symptoms present at the same time.
Some conditions can be due to age, such as cataracts, where the lens of the eye becomes opaque. Symptoms of cataracts can include:
- Cloudy/blurred or misty vision
- Lights seeming too bright or glaring
- It being harder to see in low light
- Colours looking faded
Age-related macular degeneration is another common condition that blurs the central part of your vision – symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Visual distortions (such as objects looking smaller than they used to and seeing straight lines as wavy )
- Darkening of colours
- Hallucinations, potentially
Other eye disorders can arise from general medical conditions, like diabetes or thyroid problems – while still others can have a genetic cause, like glaucoma – where the optic nerve becomes damaged, which can lead to blindness – or inherited retinal dystrophies (degenerative diseases of the retina).
Any part of the eye can become diseased. An ophthalmologist can diagnose and treat such disorders.
Common misconceptions about eye conditions
There are several misconceptions about eye conditions. Some of the most prevalent include:
- Cataracts only occur in the elderly.
Although they’re more common in the elderly, cataracts can present at any age.
- Too much time looking at screens can’t cause vision problems.
Headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes and neck pain can all be caused by too much screen time.
- There is no treatment for macular degeneration.
If you’re diagnosed with wet macular degeneration, then a treatment of intravitreal injections can stabilise the vision. About a third of people notice an improvement from the injections.
Causes of bad eyesight
A common – and reversible – cause of bad eyesight is a refractive error, like nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) or astigmatism (often described as a condition where the eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football, so unevenly directs light on the retina).
Refractive errors develop when the eye is unable to focus light directly on the retina. In these cases, a prescription of glasses from your optician can usually dramatically improve your eyesight.
However, conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma are all common causes of bad eyesight which an ophthalmologist needs to manage.
8 top tips to protect your eye health
There are a number of things you can do to protect your eye health:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Protect your eyes from the sun
- Wear eye protection when doing anything that could potentially lead to eye injury
- Take breaks from screen time
- Avoid smoking
- Attend regular eye checks with your optician or ophthalmologist (at least every 2 years)
When should I go for treatment?
Ophthalmologists dedicate their working lives to preserving and, in some cases, restoring sight. It’s important to remember that small problems left untreated can turn into big problems, which can sometimes be harder to treat.
That being said, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should see a doctor urgently:
- Sudden loss of vision – central or peripheral
- Transient loss of vision
- Painful eyes
- Flashing lights or floaters
- Double vision
- Swollen eye lids
- If you’re worried about your vision or general eye health, the first step in getting a diagnosis is making an appointment with your GP or optician. They can then refer you to an ophthalmologist, who can discuss your treatment options with you. (Don’t have a GP?)
- Mr Saruban Pasu is an expert in cataract surgery, retinal and macular problems and can provide expert treatment, advice and guidance. Make an enquiry.