HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR EYES?
Your eyes are an essential part of your everyday life. Knowledge of the conditions that affect eye health is imperative for a proactive and preventative health routine, and ensuring you always see your best.
Good eyesight plays a pivotal role in your well being and is a significant factor in safety, retaining independence, and maintaining a good quality of life as we get older. Unfortunately, people often ignore early signs of vision problems, hoping their eyesight will miraculously clear up, which rarely happens. When you are young, it’s easy to take your eyes for granted but being aware of eye conditions is important. Early diagnosis of eye problems, followed by professional treatment, can either help preserve or improve your vision.
Six of the most commonly diagnosed eye conditions include:
Cataracts are caused by proteins clumping together through the aging process, which cause the lens to turn from clear to cloudy over time. A cataract starts out small and, at first, has little effect on your vision, but eventually clouds the lens and makes seeing nearly impossible. Cataracts will not go away on their own but will continually worsen. Everyone is at risk, and the only treatment option is surgery. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40, and are the leading cause of blindness in the world. In fact, there are more cases of cataracts worldwide than there are of glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy combined, according to Prevent Blindness America (PBA).[1,2]
2. Refractive Errors
When light passes through the cornea and the lens, it is bent – or refracted – to form the images we see. If that refraction is skewed, vision suffers. The most common reasons people wear glasses or contacts, including near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism, are caused by refractive errors.
- Far-sightedness, also known as hyperopia, is a condition where you can easily see things far away, but your close-up vision is blurry.
- Near-sightedness, or myopia, means you are able to see close-up objects, while faraway objects look blurry.
- Astigmatism is a common eye condition that is caused by an error in the shape of the cornea which causes distorted, fuzzy, or blurry vision.
- Presbyopia, a condition that causes your eye to slowly lose the ability to focus on close-up objects, is also a refractive error that is a natural part of the aging process.
3. Diabetic Retinopathy
Retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease. It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the retina (light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye), causing swelling and scar tissue, which may lead to the retina detaching and subsequent severe, irreversible vision loss. People with diabetes should have annual eye exams including retinopathy screenings.
4. Macular degeneration
The macular is the part of the retina that allows you to see fine details. It can degenerate with age, causing everything from hazy vision to complete loss of central vision. Little can be done to improve vision once someone has age-related macular degeneration, but catching it early can slow its progress.[2,4]
Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is the nerve responsible for sending light images from the retina to the brain. In most cases, the condition develops when too much pressure builds up inside the eye. This disease can lead to serious vision loss or blindness and rarely shows symptoms in the early stages. By the time you notice any symptoms – usually blind spots in peripheral vision – optic nerve damage is severe. This makes regular eye examinations by an eye care professional important.
6. Dry Eyes
This occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist. The prevalence of dry eye syndrome increases with age. Some medications and medical conditions can cause dry eyes, as can working long hours in front of a computer or in a dry environment. Symptoms may include blurred vision, contact lens discomfort, excessive tearing, eye fatigue and irritation, feeling like something is in the eye, itching, redness, and light sensitivity.
Optometrist or ophthalmologist – which one is right for you?
An optometrist is an eye doctor who examines eyes for both vision and eye health problems, and corrects refractive errors by prescribing glasses or contact lenses. They can also prescribe medications to treat certain eye problems and diseases.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for glasses.
If your eyes are healthy and don’t require specialised medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for a routine eye exam is a matter of personal preference. However, if you already have a medical eye problem — such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts — it is important to seek care from an eye doctor who is highly trained and skilled in monitoring and treating your condition. In many cases, this may mean that medical or surgical eye care by a specially trained ophthalmologist is required. In such cases, your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist who is a specialist in treating your condition.
Get tested regularly
Regular eye examinations by an eye care professional are important. Most eye care experts recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear corrective lenses. Eye and vision examinations are an important part of preventive healthcare as many eye problems have no obvious signs or symptoms.
Early diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems can help prevent vision loss. If you are at risk for eye problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye disease, you may need more frequent exams. It’s a good idea to make sure that your medical aid scheme covers eye care, including tests, glasses, contacts, and surgery, especially as you age.
A comprehensive eye exam should include: 
- A review of your personal and family health history and any history of eye problems
- Evaluation of your distance and near vision with an eye chart
- Evaluation for the presence of refractive errors, such as near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. These are types of optical imperfections that prevent the eye from properly focusing light.
- Evaluation of your eyes’ ability to work together as a team
- An eye pressure test and examination of the optic nerve to rule out glaucoma
- Examination of the interior of your eyes to rule out other eye problems, such as cataracts and macular degeneration
5 questions to ask your eye care professional: 
- Can you explain the tests I will be undergoing during today’s examination?
- What is the cause of my vision loss or poor vision (i.e. near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, etc.)?
- What is my visual acuity?
- How is my peripheral or side vision?
- Based on my age, what symptoms should I watch out for in order to preserve healthy vision?
Eye Health Statistics
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that globally, 285 million people are visually impaired, of whom 39 million are blind. According to WHO data for 2010, 80% of visually impairment including blindness is avoidable.
- The two main causes of visual impairment in the world are uncorrected refractive errors (42%) and cataracts (33%). Cost-effective interventions to reduce the burden of both conditions exist in all countries.
- World wide, about 66 million people are affected by glaucoma, with 10% of them becoming blind as a result. In South Africa, it is estimated that about 200 000 people are affected.
- According to the WHO website, age-related macular degeneration accounts for 7.1% of global blindness, making it the 4th biggest cause of blindness worldwide.
- In South Africa, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, responsible for about 50% of the prevalence of blindness, and identified as a national health priority.
- Dry eyes are more common in pregnant women, postmenopausal women and older individuals. More than 60% of people over the age of 65 are affected to some extent.
Founded in 1945, Alcon, a division of Novartis, is the global leader in eye care products. Headquartered in Hünenberg, Switzerland, the company provides innovative surgical and vision care products that enhance quality of life by transforming the way eye diseases and conditions are treated; helping people see better. Today, Alcon reaches more than 90% of the globe – operating in more than 75 countries, serving 180 markets and employing more than 24 000 people. With more than 1 000 clinical and technical experts around the world, Alcon aims to make its team accessible and equipped to fulfill customer and patient needs.
- All About Vision. [Internet]. Cataracts [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/cataracts.htm
- Alcon. [Internet]. Eye Conditions Overview; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: https://www.alcon.com/sites/www.alcon.com/files/AlconFactsheet_Eye-Conditions-Overview.pdf
- All About Vision. [Internet]. Eye Problems and Diseases [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/
- North Florida Cataract Specialists and Vision Care. [Internet]. The 5 Most Common Eye Problems; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.northfloridavision.com/blog/post/2015/08/31/The-5-Most-Common-Eye-Problems.aspx
- All About Vision. [Internet]. How to Choose an Eye Doctor; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.allaboutvision.com/eye-doctor/choose.htm
- All About Vision. [Internet]. Eye Exam Cost and When to Have an Eye Exam [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.allaboutvision.com/eye-exam/preparing.htm
- World Health Organisation (WHO). [Internet]. Universal Eye Health: A Global Action Plan 2014–2019; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.who.int/blindness/actionplan/en/
- South African Glaucoma Society. [Internet]. Patient Information; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: https://www.sags.co.za/
- South African National Council for the Blind. [Internet]. Age-related macular degeneration; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.sancb.org.za/article/age-related-macular-degeneration
- The South African Medical Journal. [Internet]. South Africa’s cataract surgery rates – why are we not meeting our targets? [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21920119
- Health24. [Internet]. Dry eyes; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.health24.com/Medical/Eye/Eye-disorders/Dry-eyes-20120721
- All About Vision. [Internet]. Eye Exam Cost and When To Have An Eye Exam [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: http://www.allaboutvision.com/eye-exam/preparing.htm
- Alcon. [Internet]. Questions to Ask an Eye Care Professional; [cited 2017 Sep 14]. Available from: https://www.alcon.com/sites/www.alcon.com/files/questions-to-ask-eye-doctor-US.pdf