Read on to find out about some of the most common long-term eye conditions.
Blepharitis is a common and ongoing condition that causes inflammation of the rims of the eyelids. It is most often caused by an infection or skin condition. It can also lead to dry eye syndrome (see below).
Blepharitis makes your eyelids swollen, red and itchy, which can cause your eyes to sting and feel sore. Your eyelids may also become greasy or crusty, which can create a gritty sensation that feels as if there is something on the surface of your eye. Blepharitis can also lead to abnormal eyelash growth or eyelash loss.
If you have had blepharitis, it is likely to recur sporadically, sometimes after your eyes have been healthy for a long time. Blepharitis cannot be cured but the symptoms can usually be controlled with topical treatments and good eye hygiene.
Your eye care practitioner will be able to confirm a diagnosis of blepharitis and help you find a treatment plan to manage your symptoms.
Eye allergy (allergic conjunctivitis) results from a systemic disorder of the immune system. It is a reaction to allergens, such as pollen, mould, dust mites or pet dander.
These allergens get into your eyes and your body responds by releasing chemicals called histamines, which in turn cause inflammation. It is this inflammation that can make your eyes:
- Sting or burn
If you have an eye allergy, your eyes may also feel gritty, as if sand is caught between your eye and your eyelid. You may also find your vision is temporarily blurred. A runny or itchy nose, sneezing, coughing or headaches sometimes accompany these symptoms.
The best defence against eye allergies is to identify and avoid contact with the allergen that triggers your symptoms. If you do come into contact with a known allergen, remove your contact lenses (if you are wearing lenses) and carefully wash your eyes.
If your symptoms persist, you could also consider an over-the-counter or prescription treatment. Talk to your eye care practitioner and GP to find out which is the best treatment for your eye allergy.
Glaucoma is the term given to a group of eye disorders that can affect your vision. It is more common in older people and those with a family history of the condition.
Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside your eye is so high that it damages the nerves and fibres at the back of your eye. Glaucoma usually affects both eyes, but is likely to affect one eye more quickly than the other.
It is quite common for people with glaucoma not to experience any symptoms and for their eyesight to initially appear normal. It is therefore particularly important to have regular eye tests, so your eye care practitioner can check for glaucoma.
If left untreated, glaucoma can affect your vision and lead to vision loss. Damage to the eye caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed, but early diagnosis and treatment with eye drops, laser eye treatment or surgery can minimise further vision loss.
A cataract is a clouding of the lens of your eye. Cataracts can be symptom-free when they first develop, but over time they can cause increasingly cloudy or blurry vision. They can also intensify glare, making it uncomfortable to look at bright lights.
Most cataracts are age-related, so they are much more common in older people. There are thought to be a number of other factors that increase the risk of cataracts, including exposure to the sun’s harmful UV rays, poor diet, smoking, diabetes and a family history of the condition.
If you have cataracts but have no symptoms, or the effect on your vision is mild, treatment may not be needed. However, surgery may be required if your cataracts start to affect your day-to-day activities, such as your ability to recognise people, read or drive.
Age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye condition that typically develops in people over 65. However, some people experience its onset earlier. AMD occurs when the macula, the central part of the retina in your eye, stops functioning effectively.
AMD leads to the gradual loss of your central field of vision, making it distorted and blurry. It does not necessarily lead to total loss of sight, because quite often the peripheral (side) vision remains intact.
If you have AMD, your central vision may be blurred or distorted and things may appear to be an unusual size or shape.
There are two types of AMD: dry AMD and wet AMD.
The more common dry AMD develops gradually over time and can cause some vision loss. There is currently no cure for dry AMD. However, day-to-day activities can be made easier with the help of good lighting, large print and a magnifying glass.
There is also some evidence that appropriate nutritional supplements and eating certain foods (such as green leafy vegetables) can slow the progression of dry AMD.
Wet AMD develops more quickly and can cause greater vision loss. It is sometimes treated with medication or laser surgery. Treatment does not always improve eyesight, but it can help prevent your vision from becoming worse. Wet AMD should be treated as quickly as possible to prevent further vision loss.
If you have diabetes you are more at risk of developing eye problems such as diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when diabetes has damaged the blood vessels in your retina.
In the early stages of retinopathy there may be no symptoms. You may then begin to experience blurred vision or poor night vision. Retinopathy can also sometimes lead to sudden vision loss.
It is very important that retinopathy is diagnosed early and any symptoms can be treated as soon as possible, so regular eye tests are essential.
You may be able to better to control it by managing your diabetes more effectively or your doctor may recommend laser eye surgery to prevent further damage to your eyes.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome occurs when your eyes don’t make enough tears or your tears evaporate too quickly. Dry eye syndrome can cause your vision to be blurred and make your eyes:
- Sting or burn
- Feel as if there is something stuck in them
Dry eye syndrome has a number of causes. It can be a side effect of certain medications or a symptom of a chronic disease. It is also particularly common in elderly people.
Dry eye syndrome is an ongoing condition that can usually be treated with good eye hygiene and lubricating eye drops. Symptoms may also be relieved by adjusting your environment, such as using a humidifier where the air is dry.
If you are taking medication, speak to your GP to find out if dry eye syndrome could be a side effect and if there is an alternative medication that may relieve this side effect. Your GP may also recommend ocular lubricant eye drops to relieve the symptoms.
You can find out more about environmental causes of dry eyes in our article about short-term eye conditions.
The best step to ensuring your eyes and vision remain healthy is to visit your eye care practitioner regularly. If you have any concerns about your eye health or vision, you should book an appointment with your eye care practitioner as soon as possible to rule out an eye condition.
You can find an eye care practitioner near you here.