Common Eye Conditions A-Z

Cataracts occur when changes in the lens of the eye cause it to become less transparent. These changes are because the lens grows throughout your life. The lens is the structure that sits just behind your pupil and focuses light on the retina.

Cataracts sometimes start to develop in a person's lens as they get older, stopping some of the light reaching the retina. This can affect your vision, making it become increasingly cloudy, blurry, or misty.

Although cataracts are often associated with age, in rare cases babies are born with cataracts or young children can develop them.

This is an inflammation of the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye (the sclera) and the inside of the eyelids which causes discomfort but not severe pain. It is usually caused by a bacterial or viral infection. A bacterial infection is usually accompanied by a discharge, not just watering, and can be treated with antibiotic eye drops or ointment.

Diabetes, both types I and II, can affect many parts of the eye. The most important of these is considered to be the retina and the changes are called Diabetic Retinopathy (DR). The NHS provides annual screening for DR which involves having photographs taken of the inside of the eyes and the images are assessed.

DR is caused by damage to the blood vessels of the retina which causes them to become leaky or delicate new ones to grow, potentially leading to reduced vision.

Some people can be unaffected although diabetic for many years whilst others can develop signs after only a few years. It is recommended that diabetics, as instructed by their doctor, maintain good control of their blood glucose levels and also their blood pressure and cholesterol – this reduces the risk of developing DR.

Eye strain is commonly used to describe the feeling where your eyes may feel tired usually after performing visual tasks such as reading or using a computer.

Symptoms may include headaches, watery eyes, blurring and sometimes double vision. Although often annoying eye strain does not permanently damage your eyes.

There can be many causes for eye strain such as the need for spectacles, poor lighting conditions or difficulty with your eyes working together.

Your local optometrist may be able to help diagnosis and treat such problems.

What are floaters?

Most people get black spots floating in their field of vision at some time. As you get older they can appear more often. Sometimes the spots look fuzzy and as if they are strung together on a thread. The eyeball is filled with a jelly-like material called the vitreous. The black spots are the shadows of little bits of protein floating in the jelly. The spots move with our eyes and stop when we keep still.

What are flashes?

Although several conditions (including migraine) can cause flashing lights in your vision, the most common cause is changes to the vitreous jelly.

The jelly becomes more liquid and shrinks as you get older, slowly pulling away from the inside surface of the eye. This shrinking and separation, or detachment, of the vitreous from the retina is a common phenomenon, particularly in people over 50 years of age, and causes no retinal damage in 90% of people. It is known as a posterior vitreous detachment.

Flashes are caused by the jelly pulling on the retina (the light sensitive layer at the back of the eye). This sends a signal up to the brain which we experience as flashes of light.

Flashing lights and floaters rarely lead to any serious complications, so you generally don’t need any treatment for them. If they are troublesome, the effect of floaters might be minimised by wearing dark glasses in bright sunlight or when looking at a brightly lit surface. In most cases, the flashes disappear with time and the floaters get less noticeable as your brain adjusts to them.

If you are experiencing flashes and/or floaters in your vision, seek urgent advice within 24 hours from a Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Scheme (PEARS) accredited Optometrist or your GP. If you have already seen your Optometrist, GP or hospital doctor about your flashes and floaters and these symptoms get worse, you must still seek advice. A less serious condition may have changed into a more serious condition. It is vital to get help to avoid permanent damage to your vision.

Seek help urgently if you have any one or both of these:

  • A sudden increase in the number or size of floaters
  • A sudden increase in flashes of light in your vision.

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. The damage is caused by the pressure of the fluid inside the eye and may be due to the pressure being higher than normal or the optic nerve being more susceptible to damage from pressure.

The most common type is chronic glaucoma where the changes happen over the time; these changes will not usually cause vision problems at first so regular eye examinations by an optometrist are important to detect them. Glaucoma can also be acute (sudden onset) and this type often causes pain and redness in the eye.

Glaucoma can affect one or both eyes and needs regular monitoring to measure the pressure in the eye, the appearance of the optic nerve in the eye and the amount of peripheral vision that a person with glaucoma has. Glaucoma cannot be cured but it can be treated. Treatment is most commonly by taking eye drops every day to lower the eye pressure.

Less frequently, a small operation may be required to help control the eye pressure. There is a support group for people in Worcestershire who have glaucoma and this can be accessed here:

The Retina is a thin film on the inside surface of the eye that is stimulated by light.

A very special area of the retina where the most sensitive vision takes place is called the Macula. Whilst you are reading these words you are using the macula to see the letters.

Unfortunately, some people can suffer reduced function in this area of the retina and this is generally referred to Macula Degeneration.

Macula Degeneration can occur at any age although it does become more common the older we get. It is a leading cause of registered sight loss but for many the effects can be much less dramatic.

You may hear of the terms Dry or Wet or describe different types of Macula Degeneration

Dry is very much more common but is usually a slow, progressive change there is no current cure.

There is however a link between nutrition and the chances of developing Dry Macula changes. Simply, this means maintaining a good healthy diet. Including oily fish (rich in omega 3s) and fresh coloured fruit and vegetables particularly broccoli and kale (rich in lutein)

If you are diagnosed with Dry Macula Degeneration some practitioners recommend taking food supplements that claim to slow the progression.

Wet is a sudden and dramatic change and distortion in the sight of one eye, caused by fluid accumulating in the Macula. If this is detected quickly it is possible to treat, often very successfully.

If you or someone you know reports a sudden change it is important to seek help as soon as possible, ideally with your own optometrist who can compare their own records about your eye.

A simple way to monitor your macula is to use an Amsler Grid

Simply download and print. It is a good idea to stick to the back of a cupboard door and view with each eye individually from time to time.