With today's medical advances, you don't need to lose sleep about most vision problems, especially if you get them treated early. Getting an eye exam and taking control of your visual health can really improve your quality of life. Have you ever talked to someone who had an eye condition that took a while to diagnose? You might hear a story like: "I always thought trees and birds were blurry. But then I got glasses, and the whole world changed!" Don't let an undiagnosed eye condition keep you from seeing the beauty of the world.
Here are some common eye conditions, along with their risks and treatment options, with an assist from the National Eye Institute (NEI).
Lazy eye, or amblyopia, occurs when one eye can't focus as well as the other. It's diagnosed in two to three out of every 100 children and lasts into adulthood if not treated. Treatment is simple: Children are typically given a patch to wear over their good eye, forcing the affected eye to strengthen.
Astigmatism occurs when the cornea is shaped more like a football than a basketball. This prevents the eye from focusing properly, and objects can appear blurry or stretched out. Symptoms include blurry vision, difficulty driving at night, and headaches. Glasses, contacts, or surgery can help.
Nearsightedness, or myopia, occurs when you can see close objects clearly but distant objects are fuzzy. This is caused when incoming light is focused in front of the retina instead of on it. It's often diagnosed between the ages of 8 and 12 but can worsen with age. If you're having trouble seeing objects in the distance, such as highway signs, you should get an eye exam. Myopia is easily treated with glasses, contacts, or surgery.
If you have more trouble focusing on close objects than distant objects, you may be farsighted, also known as hyperopia. This condition happens when your eye focuses images behind the retina rather than on it (the opposite of nearsightedness). Your eye doctor can treat this condition with glasses, contacts, or surgery.
Some vision problems are much more likely to affect older people. Here are three common ones:
- Presbyopia. If you're older than 35 and suddenly have trouble focusing on close objects, you may have presbyopia, caused by your eye lens hardening. Symptoms include having to hold reading material far away, difficulty reading small print, and problems seeing close objects. It's not serious, and reading glasses can often treat it.
- Age-related macular degeneration. This involves damage to the macula, which can affect daily tasks such as seeing faces or reading. Risk factors include ethnicity, smoking, family history, and age. Exercise and healthy eating may help. For later-stage conditions, your doctor may recommend supplements, injections, or laser treatment.
- Glaucoma. This condition is a major cause of blindness, but it can be controlled with early treatment. Glaucoma involves fluid buildup that increases eye pressure, damaging the optical nerve. Eye drops and pills are common treatments, but some cases require surgery.
How Often Should a Healthy Person Get an Eye Exam?
If your vision is changing, you should get an eye exam right away, because many symptoms can be reversed or slowed with treatment. But even healthy people should have eye exams. According to the NEI, anyone over 60 should get a yearly dilated eye exam. (African-Americans should start at 40 because of glaucoma risks.) Some experts, however, don't think this is enough: In an article featured in the New York Times, low-vision specialist Dr. Bruce Rosenthal said annual eye checkups are "best done from age 20 on, and certainly by age 40," because some conditions can do damage before you show symptoms.
If you have any of the following risk factors, talk to a doctor about whether you should have yearly eye exams:
- High blood pressure or cholesterol.
- Heart disease.
- Past or present smoker.
- Family history of eye conditions.
Remember, many vision problems can be treated with glasses or contacts, and even the more serious types benefit significantly from early intervention. Don't put off seeing an eye doctor if you've noticed a change in your vision. There's no good reason you should be dealing with blurry eyesight if all you need is a pair of glasses.