Vision is one of our most vital senses, allowing us to take in and understand the world around us. However, our eyes are vulnerable to various conditions and diseases that can impair sight and eye health. Some of the most common eye problems affecting adults include dry eyes, pinkeye, astigmatism, glaucoma, and cataracts. Protecting our vision and eye health is incredibly important, as sight loss can greatly impact daily living, independence, and quality of life. Routine eye exams allow early detection and treatment of many common eye diseases, some of which may have no obvious symptoms in their early stages. Educating ourselves on the most prevalent eye conditions, their symptoms, and risk factors is key to preserving our eyesight.
Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears, or the tears evaporate too quickly. This leads to irritation and inflammation of the surface of the eye.
Maintaining eye moisture with frequent use of artificial tears is the mainstay of dry eye treatment. Other measures like warm compresses, avoiding air flow, and adjusting computer use can also help manage symptoms. Severe cases may require prescription medication or surgery.
Pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids.
Pinkeye can be caused by:
Viruses – The most common causes of viral pinkeye are adenovirus and enterovirus. It’s highly contagious and spreads easily through contact with infected nasal secretions, coughs and sneezes.
Bacteria – The most common bacteria that cause pinkeye are Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae. Bacterial pinkeye can spread through contact with contaminated hands and shared objects.
Allergens – Allergic reactions to pollen, dust mites, cosmetics, contact lenses, and other irritants can cause allergic pinkeye.
Symptoms of pinkeye include:
Viral pinkeye usually resolves without treatment in 1-2 weeks. Artificial tears can help with discomfort.
Bacterial pinkeye is treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointments prescribed by a doctor.
Allergic pinkeye is treated by removing the allergen source and using antihistamine eye drops. Severe cases may require steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation.
Good hygiene like handwashing, not sharing towels, and replacing eye makeup can help prevent spreading pinkeye. See a doctor if symptoms don’t improve within a few days.
Astigmatism is an imperfection in the curvature of the eye that causes blurred vision. It is a very common eye condition that causes light to focus on more than one point in the eye.
Astigmatism can be caused by:
Irregular shape of the cornea – The clear front cover of the eye that helps focus light is abnormally curved like a football rather than spherical like a basketball. This results in multiple focus points.
Irregular shape of the lens – The crystalline lens inside the eye that helps focus light is abnormally shaped, resulting in blurred vision.
Genetics – Many people inherit astigmatism from a parent.
Aging – Astigmatism may develop as the cornea or lens change shape with age.
Common symptoms of astigmatism include:
Astigmatism can often be corrected with prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses that compensate for the abnormal curvature of the eye. Other treatment options include:
If astigmatism is mild, no treatment may be needed.
Primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) is a common eye condition that damages the optic nerve. It is one of the leading causes of blindness for people over 60 years old. POAG is caused by fluid building up in the front part of the eye. This happens when the fluid cannot drain properly through the eye’s drainage system, which is called the “angle” of the eye. The exact cause is unknown but may be related to aging. There are also some risk factors like genetics, race, and high eye pressure. The main symptom of POAG is loss of peripheral or side vision. This happens very slowly, so people often don’t notice it. Other symptoms include blurred vision, halos around lights, red eyes, nausea, and eye pain. However, many people with glaucoma have no symptoms at all until major vision loss has occurred. There is no cure for glaucoma, but treatment aims to lower eye pressure enough to slow or stop damage to the optic nerve. Eye drops are usually the first line of treatment. Laser or incisional surgery may also be options. With early diagnosis and ongoing treatment, people with glaucoma can preserve much of their vision.
Cataracts are a common eye condition that causes cloudy areas to develop in the lens of the eye. The lens is normally clear, and focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye to produce a sharp image. With cataracts, opacities in the lens prevent light from passing through clearly, causing vision to become blurred. Age is the most common risk factor for cataracts. Proteins in the lens begin to break down over time and clump together, forming cataracts. Most cataracts develop after age 40, and around half of people over age 80 have cataracts. Other factors that may increase risk include smoking, excessive sun exposure, diabetes, corticosteroid medication use, previous eye trauma or surgery, and inherited genetic mutations.
Symptoms of cataracts include:
Symptoms tend to develop gradually and worsen over time as the cataracts mature. Vision loss can impact daily activities like reading, driving, and recognizing faces.
Mild cataracts may not require treatment at first. Stronger eyeglasses, anti-glare sunglasses, or brighter lighting can help manage vision changes. If cataracts interfere with daily activities, surgery to remove the cloudy lens is recommended. This outpatient procedure involves making a tiny incision in the eye to break up and suction out the old lens. An artificial intraocular lens is then inserted to replace the lens’s focusing power. Cataract surgery is highly effective at restoring vision and considered one of the safest and most successful operations. Over 95% of patients experience improved vision after the procedure.
Eye health is incredibly important, yet many people take their vision for granted. As this article has explored, there are a number of common eye conditions that can impact vision if left untreated. To recap, dry eyes result from insufficient tear production and can cause irritation, redness, and blurred vision. Pinkeye, also known as conjunctivitis, involves inflammation of the conjunctiva and causes red, watery eyes. Astigmatism arises from an irregularly shaped cornea and makes objects appear distorted. Primary open angle glaucoma is caused by fluid buildup in the eye, which increases pressure and damages the optic nerve over time if uncontrolled. Cataracts cause clouding in the lens of the eye, leading to symptoms like blurry vision and sensitivity to light. Protecting eye health starts with having regular comprehensive eye exams, wearing UV blocking sunglasses, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding smoking, and controlling chronic illnesses like diabetes. By being proactive and recognizing vision changes early, many common eye diseases can be caught and managed before they substantially impact your eyesight and quality of life. Healthy eyes are vital for everyday activities and enriching life experiences.