It’s easy to take your eyes for granted. However, early diagnosis and treatment of eye problems could help save your eyesight.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 285 million people in the world are visually impaired, of whom 39 million are blind. The WHO says that 80% of visual impairment, including blindness, is avoidable.

Unfortunately, people often ignore early signs of vision problems, hoping that their eyesight will miraculously clear up, which rarely happens.

The two main causes of visual impairment in the world are uncorrected refractive errors (42%) and cataract (33%). Cost-effective interventions to reduce the burden of both conditions exist in all countries.

Here are six of the most commonly diagnosed eye conditions:

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1. Cataracts

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40, and are the leading cause of blindness in the world. In fact, there are more cases of cataracts worldwide than there are of glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy combined, according to Prevent Blindness America (PBA).

Cataracts are caused by proteins clumping together through the aging process, which cause the lens to turn from clear to cloudy over time.

A cataract starts out small and, at first, has little effect on your vision, but eventually clouds the lens and makes seeing nearly impossible.

Cataracts do not go away on their own and will continually worsen. Everyone is at risk, and the only treatment option is surgery.

2. Refractive errors

When light passes through the cornea and the lens, it is bent – or refracted – to form the images we see. If that refraction is skewed, vision suffers.

The most common reasons people wear glasses or contacts, including near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism, are caused by refractive errors.

  • Farsightedness, also known as hyperopia, is a condition where you can easily see things far away, but your close-up vision is blurry.
  • Near-sightedness, or myopia, means you are able to see close-up objects, while far away objects look blurry.
  • Astigmatism is a common eye condition that is caused by an error in the shape of the cornea which causes distorted, fuzzy, or blurry vision.
  • Presbyopia, a condition that causes your eye to slowly lose the ability to focus on close-up objects, is also a refractive error that is a natural part of the ageing process.

3. Diabetic retinopathy

Retinopathy is the most common diabetic eye disease.

 It occurs when high blood sugar levels damage blood vessels in the retina (light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye), causing swelling and scar tissue. This may lead to the retina detaching and subsequent severe, irreversible vision loss.

People with diabetes should have annual eye exams including retinopathy screenings.

4. Macular degeneration

According to the WHO, age-related macular degeneration accounts for 7,1% of global blindness, making it the fourth biggest cause of blindness worldwide.

The macular is the part of the retina that allows you to see fine details. It can degenerate with age, causing everything from hazy vision to complete loss of central vision.

Little can be done to improve vision once someone has age-related macular degeneration, but catching it early can slow its progress.

5. Glaucoma

Worldwide, about 66 million people are affected by glaucoma, with 10% of them becoming blind as a result.

Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve, which is the nerve responsible for sending light images from the retina to the brain.

In most cases, the condition develops when too much pressure builds up inside the eye. This disease can lead to serious vision loss or blindness and rarely shows symptoms in the early stages.

By the time you notice any symptoms – usually blind spots in peripheral vision – optic nerve damage is severe. This makes regular eye examinations by an eye care professional important.

6. Dry eyes

Dry eyes are more common in pregnant women, postmenopausal women and older individuals.

The prevalence of dry eye syndrome increases with age and occurs when your eyes do not produce enough tears to keep your eyes moist. More than 60% of people over the age of 65 are affected to some extent.

Some medications and medical conditions can cause dry eyes, as can working long hours in front of a computer or in a dry environment.

Symptoms may include blurred vision, contact lens discomfort, excessive tearing, eye fatigue and irritation, feeling like something is in the eye, itching, redness, and light sensitivity.

Related: Do you suffer from digital eye strain?

Optometrist or ophthalmologist – which one is right for you?

An optometrist is an eye doctor who examines eyes for both vision and eye health problems and corrects refractive errors by prescribing glasses or contact lenses. They can also prescribe medications to treat certain eye problems and diseases.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who specialises in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat disease, prescribe medications and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for glasses.

If your eyes are healthy and don’t require specialised medical or surgical treatment, the type of eye doctor you choose for a routine eye exam is a matter of personal preference.

However, if you already have a medical eye problem – such as glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts – it is important to seek care from an eye doctor who is highly trained and skilled in monitoring and treating your condition. In many cases, this may mean that medical or surgical eye care by a specially trained ophthalmologist is required. In such cases, your optometrist may refer you to an ophthalmologist who is a specialist in treating your condition.

Get tested regularly 

Most eye care experts recommend that you have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, depending on your age, risk factors and whether you currently wear corrective lenses. 

Early diagnosis and treatment of eye and vision problems can help prevent vision loss. If you are at risk for eye problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye disease, you may need more frequent exams.

A comprehensive eye exam should include:

  • A review of your personal and family health history and any history of eye problems
  • Evaluation of your distance and near vision with an eye chart
  • Evaluation for the presence of refractive errors, such as near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia. These are types of optical imperfections that prevent the eye from properly focusing light.
  • Evaluation of your eyes’ ability to work together as a team
  • An eye pressure test and examination of the optic nerve to rule out glaucoma
  • Examination of the interior of your eyes to rule out other eye problems, such as cataracts and macular degeneration

Questions to ask an eye care professional

  1. Can you explain the tests I will be undergoing during today’s examination?
  2. What is the cause of my vision loss or poor vision (i.e. near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, etc.)?
  3. What is my visual acuity?
  4. How is my peripheral or side vision?
  5. Based on my age, what symptoms should I watch out for in order to preserve healthy vision?

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While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.