Optometric Health Topics (Glossary)

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This section provides brief explanations of some of the more common types of eye conditions. If you have questions about the health of your eyes, or are experiencing any unusual symptoms please contact the office and schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Definitions:

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)
Amblyopia is the medical term used when the vision in one of your eyes is reduced because the eye and the brain are not working together properly. The eye itself looks normal, but it is not being used normally because the brain is favoring the other eye. This condition is more commonly known as lazy eye.

Strabismus
Strabismus is the condition where the eyes are misaligned. Different types of strabismus include crossed eyes, out-turned eyes, or vertical misalignment. The problem may be present intermittently or constantly. Treatment options depend upon the type of strabismus, and may include glasses, prism lenses and/or surgical remediation.

Presbyopia
This is a vision condition in which the crystalline lens of your eye loses its flexibility, which makes it difficult for you to focus on close objects. Presbyopia may seem to occur suddenly, but the actual loss of flexibility takes place over a number of years. This condition usually becomes noticeable in individuals in their early to mid 40s and is a natural part of the aging process of the eye. It is not a disease, and it cannot be prevented. Some signs of presbyopia include the tendency to hold reading materials at arm’s length, blurred vision at normal reading distance and eye fatigue along with headaches when doing close work. A comprehensive vision examination includes testing for presbyopia.

Diabetes/Diabetic Retinopathy
A common complication of diabetes is retinopathy. Diabetes can affect the blood vessels in the retina (the thin light-sensitive membrane that covers the back of the eye). If untreated, it may lead to blindness. If diagnosed and treated properly, blindness is usually preventable.

Dry Eyes
Dry eye syndrome is a common disorder of the tear film. This affects a large percentage of the population, especially those older than 40 years old. The estimated number of people affected ranges from 10-14 million in the United States. Worldwide, the incidence rate closely parallels that of the United States.

To help keep your eyes comfortable and your vision optimal, a normal, thin film of tears coats the front surface of your eye. There are three layers that make up this tear film:

  • The innermost layer is the thinnest, and is a layer of mucin (mucus). This very thin layer is produced by and coats the cells in the conjunctiva (the clear skin that lines the eye).
  • The middle (or aqueous) layer is the largest and the thickest layer. This layer is essentially a very dilute saltwater solution. The main (lacrimal) glands and the accessory tear glands produce this watery layer. This layer’s function is to keep the eye moist and comfortable, as well as to help flush out any dust, debris or foreign objects that may get into the eye. Defects of this layer are the most common cause of dry eye syndrome.
  • The most superficial layer is a very thin layer of lipids (fats and oils). These lipids are produced by the meibomian glands and the glands of Zeis (oil glands in the eyelids). The main function of this lipid layer is to help decrease evaporation of the watery layer beneath it.

Floaters/Flashes of light in your vision
Floaters are small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision. You may see them more clearly when looking at a plain background, such as a blank wall. Floaters are actually tiny clumps of gel or cells inside the vitreous (clear jelly-like fluid that fills the inside of your eye). Floaters can have different shapes, such as little dots, circles, lines, clouds or cobwebs.

While these objects look like they are in front of your eye, they are actually floating inside. What you see are the shadows they cast on the retina.

When people reach middle age, the vitreous gel may start to thicken or shrink, forming clumps of strands inside the eye. Floaters often occur when the vitreous gel pulls away from the back wall of the eye. In some cases the retina can tear if the shrinking vitreous gel pulls away from the wall of the eye. A torn retina is always a serious problem, since it can lead to a retinal detachment. The appearance of floaters may be alarming, especially if they develop suddenly. You should see an eye doctor right away if you suddenly develop new floaters, especially if you are over age 45 or experience flashes of light.

Flashes of light occur when the vitreous gel inside your eye rubs or pulls on the retina. You may see what look like flashing lights or lightning streaks.  The flashes of light can appear off and on for several weeks or months. As we grow older, it is more common to experience flashes. If you notice the sudden appearance of light flashes you should contact your eye doctor immediately because it could mean that the retina has been torn.

Retinal Detachment
A retinal detachment occurs when the retina is pulled away from its normal position in the back of the eye. The retina sends visual images to the brain through the optic nerve.  When detachments occur, vision is blurred. A detached retina is a very serious problem that almost always causes blindness if not treated. Symptoms may include floaters, bright flashes of light usually seen in the side of your vision, sometimes a veil or curtain effect over your vision. If you have any of these symptoms call your eye doctor IMMEDIATELY.

Glaucoma
Glaucoma is a common eye condition in which the fluid pressure inside the eyes rises because of slowed fluid drainage from the eye. If untreated, it may damage the optic nerve and other parts of the eye, causing the loss of vision or even blindness. The elderly, African-Americans and people with family histories of the disease are at the greatest risk. There are no symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma. It is often called the “sneak thief of sight”. Often by the time a patient notices vision loss, the glaucoma can only be halted not reversed.

There are several different types of glaucoma, including open-angle glaucoma and acute angle-closure glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma is the common adult-onset type of glaucoma. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a less common form of glaucoma but one that can rapidly impair vision.

The treatment of glaucoma may include medication, surgery, or laser surgery. Eye drops or pills alone can usually control glaucoma, although they cannon cure it. Some drugs are designed to reduce pressure by slowing the flow of fluid into the eye. Other drops help tp imprive fluid drainage. Surgery to help fluid escape from the eye was once extensively used, but except for laser surgery, it is now reserved for the most difficult cases.

High blood pressure/Hypertensive retinopathy
Hypertensive retinopathy is damage to the retina caused by high blood pressure. The high blood pressure can cause damage to blood vessels in the eyes which can lead to loss of vision. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it has been high, the more severe the damage is likely to be.

Keratoconus
Keratoconus is a disease characterized by thinning and protrusion of the cornea. This results in an irregular, conical shape. Irregular astigmatism occurs as the condition progresses, and results in blurred vision which can be impossible to correct with glasses. Usually the disease occurs in both eyes.

Macular Degeneration
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a degenerative eye disease that causes damage to the macula (central retina) of the eye. AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in our senior population. Macular Degeneration impairs central vision. People who are affected by Age-Related Macular Degeneration have problems reading, driving and performing activities that require clear vision. There are two stages of Macular Degeneration: the more common dry stage and the wet stage.

  • The dry stage is the more common form. In this type of macular degeneration, the delicate tissues of the macula become thinned and slowly lose function.
  • The wet stage is the less common form, but is typically more damaging. The wet type of macular degeneration is caused by growth of abnormal blood vessels behind the macula. The abnormal blood vessels tend to hemorrhage or leak, resulting in the formation of scar tissue if left untreated. In some instances, the dry stage or macular degeneration can turn into the wet stage.

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Helpful Tip

Myth: Wearing glasses too much will make the eyes “dependent” on them.

Fact: Refractive errors (near-sightedness, far-sightedness, or astigmatism) change as kids get older. Many variables come into play, but most of this change is likely due to genetics and continues despite wearing glasses earlier or later or more or less. Wearing glasses does not make the eyes get worse.


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