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All About Vision

Your Comprehensive Eye Exam

Your eyes are one of the most complex organs in your body. A comprehensive eye exam to assess your visual system and eye health involves a number of different of tests. Unlike a simple vision screening, which only assesses your vision, a comprehensive eye exam includes a battery of tests in order to do a complete evaluation of the health of your eyes and your vision.

The tests that you will undergo in a comprehensive eye examination may vary from eye doctor to eye doctor but here are are some common exams that you may encounter:

Patient Background and History

One of the most important parts in a comprehensive eye exam is your patient health history. This information will alert your doctor to any conditions that should be monitored closely, such as an allergy to any medications, current or family history of systemic or eye pathology or environmental conditions that could be affecting your vision or eye health. This will also help your doctor to determine any preventative eye care measures that are relevant to keep your eyes healthy for years to come.

Visual Acuity

Visual acuity is a measurement of your vision using an eye chart, the Snellen Eye Chart. In this test the patient is seated at a standard distance and is asked to read letters or symbols of various sizes, which get smaller as you move down the chart. The results are the familiar ratio of 20/20, 20/40 etc. which is a comparison of your vision compared to the average person with good vision, which is typically 20/20. For example, a patient that has 20/40 vision, can only see at 20 feet what the normal person can see from a distance of 40 feet. This test is a preliminary test of how clearly you are seeing in each eye but it does not give you a prescription for corrective lenses.

Refraction

Those who don’t have 20/20 vision have what is referred to in most cases as a “Refractive Error.” The patient may have nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism or other eye conditions that prevent the patient from seeing 20/20. A refraction will tell the doctor which prescription lenses will correct your eyesight to achieve 20/20 vision or whichever amount your vision is correctable to.

A refraction may include a couple of steps.

Retinoscopy

Retinoscopy is a test that allows the doctor to obtain an approximate prescription for eyeglasses. In this test the doctor uses a hand-held instrument called a retinoscope that shines a light into the patient’s eye. The doctor then analyzes the reflex of the light from the patient’s eye to determine the patient’s prescription for glasses.

An instrument called a phoropter is something most patients associate with an eye exam. This space age appearing instrument, positioned in front of the patient’s face during the eye exam, gives the doctor the ability to determine the patient’s focusing ability as well as their eye alignment. The phoropter also determines which, out of the hundreds and hundreds of potential eyeglass prescriptions, will help the patient see as clear as possible. Using the phoropter, the doctor will ask the patient which series of lenses makes their vision the clearest.

While retinoscopy is quite effective for children and nonverbal patients, there are now a number of computerized or automated instruments available today to help doctors accurately determine a patient’s eyeglass prescription.

Autorefractors and Aberrometers

Autorefractors and aberrometers are computerized machines that are able to measure your refractive error to determine your prescription for glasses or contact lenses. These instruments are usually used in addition to testing described earlier:

– An autorefractor is similar to retinoscopy, which electronically analyses the light reflex from the patient’s eye.

– An aberrometer measures distortions or aberrations in the cornea and lens of the eye that disrupt proper focus of light on the retina. Using wavefront technology, the instrument measures the rays of light as they pass through your eye to look for imperfections which may indicate a refractive error.

Eye Focusing and Eye Teaming Tests

During the comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will also want to test how your eyes function individually and together from a mechanical perspective. In order to see clearly and comfortably, your eyes need to work together as a team.

Eye Health

The final and most important aspect of a comprehensive eye exam is a check of your overall eye health. These tests (below) are done to identify any eye conditions or diseases, both inside the eye as well as the external parts of the eye, that could affect your vision and general health.

Slit Lamp Test

The slit lamp or biomicroscope is an instrument that allows the doctor to examine the internal and external parts of the eye in detail, such as the conjunctiva, iris, lens, cornea, retina and the optic nerve. The patient rests their forehead and chin on a headrest to stabilize the head, while the doctor looks into the eye with the slit lamp microscope, which is magnified with a high-intensity light. A slit lamp test enables the doctor to evaluate the eyes for signs of normal aging and eye pathology, such as conjunctivitis, cataracts, macular degeneration or retinal detachment. Early diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases are essential for preventing vision loss.

Tonometry

Tonometry is a test to detect glaucoma by measuring the pressure inside your eye or IOP (intraocular pressure). Glaucoma can cause vision loss and even blindness if the IOP in the eye is too high and damages the optic nerve.

The applanation tonometer, typically attached to a slit lamp, is one of the most common instruments used to measure the pressure in the eye. Prior to doing this test the doctor will numb the patient’s eyes using an anesthetic, before gently applanating (putting pressure on) the patient’s cornea to measure the pressure in the eye.

Pupil Dilation

During your comprehensive eye exam, your doctor may decide to do a dilated eye exam. In this test, your doctor will instill dilating drops in each eye, which would enlarge your pupils to give the doctor a better view of certain parts of the back of the eye. Dilation is done at the discretion of the doctor, with some patients dilated every year and others at specified intervals; the frequency of dilation will vary for each patient.

Typically the drops take around 20 to 30 minutes to take effect and may last up to several hours following the exam; each patient is different. Since more light enters your eyes when your pupils are dilated, you will be more sensitive to bright light, especially sunlight. Although your doctor may provide disposable sunglasses, you may want to bring a pair of sunglasses to wear after the exam to make it more comfortable until the drops wear off.

A comprehensive eye exam is an important part of your overall general health maintenance and should be scheduled on a regular basis. The findings from your comprehensive eye exam can give your doctor important information about your overall health, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure.

Eye Floaters and Spots

Eye floaters are spots, squiggles or flecks that appear to drift into your visual field. Usually they are harmless, a benign, albeit annoying sign of aging. If however, your floaters are accompanied by a sudden loss of vision, pain or flashes, they could be a sign of an underlying serious eye condition and should be checked out by an eye doctor as soon as possible.

What are Eye Floaters and Spots?

Floaters, like their name, are specks or spots that float in and out of your visual field. Usually they move away when you try to focus on them. They can appear as dark dots, threads, squiggles, webs, or even rings.

But what causes them to appear? Floaters are shadows from clumps of fibers within the vitreous, the jelly-like substance in your eye, that are cast on the retina at the back of the eye. Usually, floaters don’t go away, but you tend to get used to them and eventually notice them less. Patients usually see them more when they are looking at a plain background, like the blue sky or a white wall.

In most cases, there is no treatment for floaters, people just get used to them, however if there are more serious symptoms that accompany them, there could be an underlying problem such as inflammation, diabetes or a retinal tear that needs to be addressed and treated. If the floaters are so serious that they are blocking your vision, a surgical procedure to remove the clumps may be performed.

What Causes Floaters?

Age: Although floaters may be present at any age, they are often more apparent as a result of aging. With time, the fibers in the vitreous begin to shrink and clump up as they pull away from the back of the eye. These clumps block some of the light passing through your eye, causing the shadows which appear as floaters. You are also more likely to develop floaters if you are nearsighted.

Eye Surgery or Injury: Individuals who have previously had an injury, trauma or eye surgery are more susceptible to floaters. This includes cataract surgery and laser surgery as well as other types of eye surgery.

Eye Disease: Certain eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, eye tumors or severe inflammation can lead to floaters.

Retinal Tears or Detachment: Retinal tears or detachments can be a cause of floaters. A torn retina can lead to a retinal detachment which is a very serious condition where the retina separates from the back of the eye and if untreated can lead to permanent vision loss.

When to See a Doctor

There are some cases where seeing spots is accompanied by other symptoms that could be a sign that there is a more serious underlying problem. The most common of these is seeing flashes of light. This often happens when the vitreous is pulling on the retina which would be a warning sign of a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment must be treated immediately or you can risk a permanent loss of vision. Flashes of light sometimes also appear as symptoms of migraine headaches.

If you experience a sudden onset or increase in floaters, flashes of light, pain, loss of side vision or other vision disturbances, see a doctor immediately. Further, if you have recently had eye surgery or a trauma and you are experiencing floaters during your recovery, it is advised to tell your doctor.

Generally, floaters are merely a harmless annoyance but keep an eye on your symptoms. As with any sudden or serious change in your health, it is worth having them checked out if they are really bothering you. In some cases, they may be an early warning sign of a serious problem that requires swift treatment to preserve your vision.

Eye Allergies

Along with congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and difficulty breathing, individuals with allergies often suffer from eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis resulting in red, watery, itchy and sometimes swollen eyes. Just as irritants cause an allergic response in your nasal and respiratory system, your eyes also react with an oversensitive immune response, triggered by an environmental substance that most people’s immune systems ignore. Most individuals with allergies also suffer from eye allergies which affect millions of North Americans, particularly with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) which is common during the spring, summer and fall.

What Causes An Eye Allergy?

Eye allergies, or any allergies for that matter, occur when the immune system is hypersensitized to a stimulus in the environment that comes into contact with the eye. The allergen stimulates the antibodies in the cells of your eyes to respond by releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause the eyes and surrounding tissue to become inflamed, red, watery, burning and itchy.

Eye allergens can include:

  • Airborne substances found in nature such as pollen from flowers, grass or trees.
  • Indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold.
  • Irritants such as cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume.

Tips for Coping With Eye Allergies

Allergies can go from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Knowing how to alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure can greatly improve your comfort and quality of life, particularly during allergy season which can last from April until October.

To reduce exposure to allergens:

  1. Stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high, especially in the mid-morning and early evening.
  2. Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, not only from UV rays, but also from airborne allergens.
  3. Avoid rubbing your eyes, this can intensify symptoms and increase irritation. When the eyes get itchy, it is difficult not to rub and scratch them. However, rubbing the eyes can aggravate the allergic cascade response, making them more swollen, red, and uncomfortable.
  4. Check and regularly clean your air conditioning filters.
  5. Keep pets outdoors if you have pet allergies and wash your hands after petting an animal.
  6. Use dust-mite-proof covers on bedding and pillows and wash linens frequently.
  7. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting or dry sweeping.
  8. Remove any mold in your home.
  9. Reducing contact lens wear during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.

Treatment for the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include over-the-counter and prescription drops and medications. It is best to know the source of the allergy reaction to avoid symptoms. Often people wait until the allergy response is more severe to take allergy medication, but most allergy medications work best when taken just prior to being exposed to the allergen. Consult your eye doctor about your symptoms and which treatment is best for you.

Non-prescription medications include:

  • Artificial tears (to reduce dryness)
  • Decongestant eyedrops
  • Oral antihistamines

Prescription medications include eyedrops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.

Immunotherapy which are allergy injections given by an allergist are sometimes also helpful to assist your body in building up immunity to the allergens that elicit the allergic response.

If no allergy medicine is on hand, even cool compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms.

Finding the right treatment for your allergies can make all the difference in your quality of life, particularly during the time of year when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome (DES or dry eye) is a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Its consequences range from minor irritation to the inability to wear contact lenses and an increased risk of corneal inflammation and eye infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye

Persistent dryness, scratchiness and a burning sensation on your eyes are common symptoms of dry eye syndrome. These symptoms alone may be enough for your eye doctor to diagnose dry eye syndrome. Sometimes, he or she may want to measure the amount of tears in your eyes. A thin strip of filter paper placed at the edge of the eye, called a Schirmer test, is one way of measuring this.

Some people with dry eyes also experience a “foreign body sensation” – the feeling that something is in the eye. And it may seem odd, but sometimes dry eye syndrome can cause watery eyes, because the excessive dryness works to overstimulate production of the watery component of your eye’s tears.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

In dry eye syndrome, the tear glands that moisturize the eye don’t produce enough tears, or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly.

Dry eye syndrome has several causes. It occurs:

  • As a part of the natural aging process, especially among women over age 40.
  • As a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills.
  • Because you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate with low humidity.

If your home or office has air conditioning or a dry heating system, that too can dry out your eyes. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day.

Dry eyes are also associated with certain systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea or Sjogren’s Syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth, and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus).

Long-term contact lens wear, incomplete closure of the eyelids, eyelid disease and a deficiency of the tear-producing glands are other causes.

Dry eye syndrome is more common in women, possibly due to hormone fluctuations. Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eye syndrome. Dry eye has also been associated with incomplete lid closure following blepharoplasty – a popular cosmetic surgery to eliminate droopy eyelids.

Treatment for Dry Eye

Dry eye syndrome is an ongoing condition that treatments may be unable to cure. But the symptoms of dry eye – including dryness, scratchiness and burning – can usually be successfully managed.

Your eyecare practitioner may recommend artificial tears, which are lubricating eye drops that may alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Prescription eye drops for dry eye go one step further: they help increase your tear production. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a steroid for more immediate short-term relief.

Another option for dry eye treatment involves a tiny insert filled with a lubricating ingredient. The insert is placed just inside the lower eyelid, where it continuously releases lubrication throughout the day.

If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear. You may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Wait 15 minutes or longer (check the label) before reinserting them. For mild dry eye, contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary. Switching to another lens brand could also help.

Check the label, but better yet, check with your doctor before buying any over-the-counter eye drops. Your eye doctor will know which formulas are effective and long-lasting and which are not, as well as which eye drops will work with your contact lenses.

To reduce the effects of sun, wind and dust on dry eyes, wear sunglasses when outdoors. Wraparound styles offer the best protection.

Indoors, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other particles from the air, while a humidifier adds moisture to air that’s too dry because of air conditioning or heating.

For more significant cases of dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend punctal plugs. These tiny devices are inserted in ducts in your lids to slow the drainage of tears away from your eyes, thereby keeping your eyes more moist.

If your dry eye is caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), your doctor may recommend warm compresses and suggest an in-office procedure to clear the blocked glands and restore normal function.

Doctors sometimes also recommend special nutritional supplements containing certain essential fatty acids to decrease dry eye symptoms. Drinking more water may also offer some relief.

If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication alleviates the dry eye symptoms while keeping the needed treatment. In any case, never switch or discontinue your medications without consulting with your doctor first.

Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops, plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.

If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until your dry eye condition is successfully treated. Dry eyes increase your risk for poor healing after LASIK, so most surgeons will want to treat the dry eyes first, to ensure a good LASIK outcome. This goes for other types of vision correction surgery, as well.

Corneal Transplant

A cornea transplant, also known as keratoplasty or a corneal graft, replaces damaged tissue on the clear front surface of the eye.

When disease or injury damages the cornea, eyesight is affected. Light that enters the eye becomes scattered, resulting in blurred or distorted vision. When the cornea is extremely scarred or damaged, a corneal transplant is needed to restore functional vision.

Keratoplasty is performed routinely and is regarded as the most successful of all tissue transplants. According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, over 40,000 cornea transplants are done annually in the United States.

In recent years, an innovative type of corneal transplant has gained popularity. Known as Descemet’s Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK), this new procedure removes a smaller and thinner portion of the cornea. In 2009, DSEK was declared by the American Academy of Ophthalmology as superior to the conventional surgery because it may provide better vision outcomes and more eye stability. It is also associated with less risk factors. However, when the majority of the cornea is damaged, a more comprehensive removal may still be necessary to facilitate a successful transplant.

Criteria for a Corneal Transplant

A multitude of reasons indicate candidacy for a corneal transplant. Possible reasons include:

  • Eye diseases, such as keratoconus
  • Complications from laser surgery, such as LASIK
  • Extreme inflammation on the cornea
  • Scarring as a result of infections, such as eye herpes or fungal keratitis
  • Thinning of the cornea and an irregular shaped cornea
  • Hereditary factors
  • Corneal failure due to previous surgical procedures
  • Chemical burns or injuries that damaged to the cornea

Cornea Transplant Procedure

Once a patient has been recommended and approved for a corneal transplant to restore vision, the patient’s name is added to a list at an eye bank. The United States has a very advanced eye bank system, and the general wait time for a donor eye is one to two weeks. The tissue of donor corneas is checked for clarity and screened meticulously for disease before it is released for transplant.

The actual surgery is generally performed as an outpatient procedure that does not require hospitalization. General or local anesthesia may be used, depending upon the patient’s preference, age and health condition. Local anesthesia is injected into the skin surrounding the eye, which relaxes the muscles that control movement and blinking. Eye drops numb the eye itself.

Once the anesthesia has taken effect, the surgeon inspects and measures the damaged corneal area in order to decide upon the size of the transplantation. Eyelids are held open during this time. The surgeon then removes a round, button-shaped piece of the corneal tissue and replaces it with a nearly identical sized button of donor tissue. The new, healthy tissue is sutured into place. The entire procedure takes approximately one to two hours.

Following the surgery, a plastic shield must be worn over the eye in order to protect it against any inadvertent bumps or rubbing.

Rejection of the Corneal Graft

Although the vast majority of cornea transplants are successful, sometimes the new tissue is rejected. Warning signs of rejection include:

  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Decreased vision

These symptoms may be experienced as soon as one month after the surgery, or as delayed as five years later. Medications can be prescribed to reverse the rejection process. If the corneal graft fails completely, the transplant can be repeated and the outcome is generally positive. Yet the total rejection rates do increase with the total number of corneal transplants.

Recovery and Healing

It can take up to a year or longer to heal completely from a corneal transplant. At the beginning, vision is blurry and the transplant site is often swollen and thicker than the rest of the cornea. As vision returns, patients are able to return to normal daily tasks and most people can return to work within three to seven days after surgery. However, heavy lifting and exercise must be avoided for the first few weeks.

To help the body accept the corneal graft, steroid eye drops must be applied for several months. A pair of eyeglasses or a protective shield must also be worn for eye safety. Depending upon the health of the eye and the healing rate, stitches may be removed at any time from three months to more than a year later. Astigmatism often occurs as a result of an irregular corneal surface, and adjustments may be made to the sutures around the new cornea in an effort to reduce this problem.

Vision after a Cornea Transplant

Vision improvement after a cornea transplant is a process that can last up to one year later. Eyeglasses or contact lenses must be worn immediately after the surgery, since the curvature of the corneal transplant will not precisely match the natural corneal curve.

When healing is complete and stitches are removed, laser surgery may be indicated to correct vision. LASIK or PRK are both procedures that can help decrease dependence on eyeglasses or contacts. An irregular corneal surface may point to the need to wear rigid gas permeable (GP) contact lenses for vision correction.

CMV Retinitis

CMV or cytomegalovirus retinitis is a vision threatening virus that causes inflammation of the retina, primarily in individuals with a compromised immune system, such as those with AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

Symptoms of CMV Retinitis

Symptoms of CMV retinitis often appear relatively suddenly. They include general blurriness, seeing flashes or floaters, sudden loss of peripheral (side) vision, or blind spots in central vision. These symptoms all appear as the virus attacks the retina, the light-sensitive layer of nerves at the back of the eye. If left untreated, the virus can cause retinal detachment and will eventually destroy the retina and damage the optic nerve, causing permanent vision loss. Usually there is no pain felt as the retinal damage is taking place. Symptoms usually start in one eye and but can spread to the other eye as well.

Causes of CMV Retinitis

Cytomegalovirus is a herpes type virus that is actually present in most adults. However, most healthy adults never experience any symptoms or problems from the virus. Individuals with a weakened immune system however, such as those with AIDS, chemotherapy or leukemia patients, newborns or the elderly are at greater risk of the virus being activated and spreading throughout the body, including the retina.

Treatment for CMV Retinitis

Treatment includes antiviral medications such as ganciclovir, foscarnet or cidofovir, which can be administered orally, via injection through a vein or directly into the eye or through a time-release implant the releases the medication at intervals. Laser surgery to improve the damaged area of the retina, such as in a retinal detachment, may also be prescribed.

Immune strengthening is also a critical part of preventing and treating CMV retinitis. Individuals with HIV or AIDS may be put on a regimen of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to boost the immune system and fight the virus. This has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the incidence of CMV retinitis in AIDS patients and reducing the damage for those that are affected.

While these treatments can stop further damage to the retina, any vision that is lost cannot be restored. Further, even if the virus is temporarily stopped, further progression may occur in the future. This is why it is critical to see a retinal specialist on a regular basis if you have had the condition or you are at risk.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an eye condition characterized by an inflammation of the eyelids which causes redness, itching and irritation. The common eye condition is caused by either a skin disorder or a bacterial infection. Blepharitis is generally not contagious and can affect patients of any age. While it can be very uncomfortable, it usually does not pose any danger to your vision.

There are two types of blepharitis: anterior and posterior.

Anterior blepharitis occurs on the front of your eyelids in the area where the eyelashes attach to the lid. This form is less common and is usually caused by a bacterial infection or seborrheic dermatitis, which is a skin disorder (dandruff) that causes flaking and itching of the skin on the scalp and eyebrows. While it is more rare, allergies or mites on the eyelashes can also lead to this condition.

Posterior blepharitis occurs on the inner eyelid that is closer to the actual eyeball. This more common form is often caused by rosacea, dandruff or meibomian gland problems which affect the production of oil in your eyelids.

Symptoms of Blepharitis

Blepharitis can vary greatly in severity and cause a variety of symptoms which include:

  • Red, swollen eyelids
  • Itching
  • Burning or gritty sensation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Dry eyes
  • Crusting on eyelids

If left untreated, symptoms can become more severe such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Infections and styes
  • Loss of eyelashes or crooked eyelashes
  • Eye inflammation or erosion, particularly the cornea
  • Dilated capillaries
  • Irregular eyelid margin

Treatment for Blepharitis

Treatment for blepharitis depends on the cause of the condition but a very important aspect is keeping the eyelids clean. Warm compresses are usually recommended to soak the lids and loosen any crust to be washed away. It is recommended to use a gentle cleaner (baby soap or an over the counter lid-cleansing agent) to clean the area.

For bacterial infections, antibiotic drops or ointments may be prescribed, and in serious cases steroidal treatment (usually drops) may be used.

Blepharitis is typically a recurring condition so here are some tips for dealing with flare-ups:

  • Use an anti-dandruff shampoo when washing your hair
  • Massage the eyelids to release the oil from the meibomian glands
  • Use artificial tears to moisten eyes when they feel dry
  • Consider breaking from use of contact lenses during the time of the flare-up and or switching to daily disposable lenses.

The most important way to increase your comfort with blepharitis is by keeping good eyelid hygiene. Speak to your doctor about products that he or she recommends.

Astigmatism

Many people have never heard of astigmatism, although it is an extremely common eye condition.

Astigmatism is one type of refractive error. Nearsightedness and farsightedness are other types of refractive error. Refractive errors are not eye diseases. Refractive error is a result of and imperfection of the size and shape of the eye, which results in blurry or double vision.

If left untreated, astigmatism may cause eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. If you have astigmatism you may not see objects in the distance or near without some form of distortion.

Symptoms of Astigmatism

Small amounts of astigmatism can go unnoticed, however, you may be suffering from eye fatigue, eyestrain, and headaches.

Astigmatism is a condition that usually can develops early in childhood. According to a study from The Ohio State University School of Optometry, 28% of school age children suffer from astigmatism. Parents should be aware that their children might not notice that their vision is blurry, not understanding that this is not normal. Nevertheless, astigmatism should be treated because vision problems can lead to learning problems and in extracurricular activities. Make sure to have your child’s eyes examined at an eye doctor’s office at least once a year.

Causes of Astigmatism

Astigmatism is generally caused by a cornea with an irregular shape. The cornea is the front, clear layer of the eye. With astigmatism, the cornea is not round and spherical and is instead irregular having two curves instead of one curve. Astigmatism in some cases could also be caused by the lens located inside the eye that is irregular in shape.

Eyes with astigmatism distort the light that comes into the eyes because the cornea is irregularly shaped. This causes the light rays entering the eye to create two images in the back of the eye (because of the two curves), instead of one image. This is what causes the distortion in sight.

Treatments for Astigmatism

For most people, their astigmatism is fully corrected using prescription glasses or contact lenses. If you select contact lenses to correct your vision, soft contact lenses are the most common option. If for whatever reason soft contact lenses are not an option, rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) are also a great choice. Rigid gas permeable lenses usually give the clearest vision but the adaptation process will be significantly longer. Another option are hybrid contact lenses. These contacts have a center made from a rigid gas permeable (RGP) lens and an outer ring made of soft contact lens material. This type of lens provides both excellent clarity and comfort. LASIK could be another option to correct astigmatism. LASIK usually only corrects low levels of astigmatism and some patients with higher levels of astigmatism might not be candidates.

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)

Amblyopia, which is also called “lazy eye”, is a disorder that affects the visual development in children. Amblyopia is difficult to correct just with the use of contact lenses, or eyeglasses. Ambylopia can cause vision loss if it is not treated early and properly. This vision disorder affects 2-3% of the population.

What are the symptoms of Amblyopia?

Usually children that are born with amblyopia, the symptoms start in early childhood. Some signs of amblyopia in children are squinting, closing one eye in order to see better, poor general vision, headaches, and eyestrain. Usually caretakers such as parents, caregivers, doctors, or nurses notice these symptoms and recommend the child for treatment.

What are the causes of Amblyopia?

Strabismus is usually the cause of amblyopia. Strabismus is the eyes aligning incorrectly. Amblyopia can also be caused when there is a large difference between the eyes in refractive errors (prescription much higher in one eye than the other). For example, one eye is nearsighted, while the other is farsighted. If amblyopia is not treated, the brain will learn to disregard the vision in the eye with amblyopia. The eye that is disregarded does not grow with clear image and vision loss can be permanent. This is why it is very important to get early treatment and take your child to see your eye doctor if any signs are apparent.

How is Amblyopia treated?

There are several treatments for amblyopia, depending on the cause. Often children are treated using vision therapy, which usually includes a patch on the better eye. Other treatments are atropine eye drops, correct prescription eyeglasses, or surgery.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy consists of eye exercises, which aim to teach the eyes to work together. In cases of amblyopia, the exercises require the brain to recognize the affected eye, which restores vision in that eye. Some doctors place a patch over the more functional eye, which forces the less functional eye to work harder and become stronger. The patch is generally worn for a few hours a day. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment can last for weeks or months. Some children refuse to wear a patch, in those cases, a prosthetic contact lens is available. These contact lenses look like the regular eye, and are designed to block vision in that eye.

Atropine drops

Some doctors use atropine eye drops to treat amblyopia. These drops blur vision in the child’s better eye, forcing the weaker eye to work harder and get stronger. In the morning, one drop is instilled under eye doctor’s instructions. The advantage to this method of treatment is that the patch is avoided.

Prescription eyeglasses

If your child has developed amblyopia because of uncorrected vision, sometimes all that is needed is a pair of eyeglasses. When there is strong uncorrected prescription, or when there is a large difference in prescription between the two eyes, sometimes amblyopia can result. Your eye doctor may recommend eye patch therapy in addition to corrective lenses.

Surgery

Strabismus surgery is usually required if the amblyopia is due to a large eye turn. This type of surgery aligns the eyes and corrects the problem within the eye muscles. After the surgery the eyes will able to focus better. Additional vision therapy may be required after strabismus surgery.

Amblyopia must be treated as early as possible as there is no chance that it will resolve by itself. Untreated amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in that eye and reduced depth perception. Amblyopia needs to be treated promptly so that your child can have the best vision possible in childhood and later in life. When amblyopia is diagnosed and treated before age 9, the weaker eye can often develop significantly better vision. The most critical time to treat amblyopia is from 3 to 6 years of age. If you or anyone sees any signs of amblyopia, go to your eye doctor to find the best treatment for your child.

Cataracts

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 45. A condition that commonly develops as the eye ages, by the time we reach 80, more than half of us will have developed a cataract.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye which is normally transparent. The lens, located inside the eye, behind the iris and the pupil, focuses light onto the retina at the back of your eye, where it is converted to nerve signals that are passed to the brain, allowing you to see. When your lens becomes cloudy, the images projected onto your retina become blurry and unfocused and therefore the signal to the brain is also unclear. You can compare this to looking through a dirty or cloudy window. If the window is not clear, you can’t see well.

Usually cataracts develop slowly over time so your vision gradually worsens. While the majority of cataracts are a result of the aging process, there are also congenital cataracts that are present at birth, secondary cataracts that result from eye surgery or diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes and traumatic cataracts that result at any age from an injury to the eye.

While you may be able to live with mild or moderate cataracts, severe cataracts are treated with surgery. The procedure involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) implant. Cataract surgery is a common procedure that has a very high success rate of restoring vision to patients. Modern cataract surgery is frequently done as an outpatient procedure. Patients will have greatly improved vision the next day, and will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Surgery is often done in one eye first, and surgery on the second eye, if needed, may be done 2 weeks later.

Learn more about the specifics of Cataracts on the links below:

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