Our eyes perform precision work all the time. They focus on objects that are close-up, zoom in on those at a distance and have to adjust to different lighting conditions over and over again. We take in more than 80% of our information through the eyes. This is why many people are concerned about eye diseases. Indeed, numerous problems can arise - glaucoma, cataracts or severe squinting. However, in most cases a professional ophthalmologist can help.
For us to be able to maneuver through this world, we constantly need to get the most accurate images of our surroundings. Our eyes are the tools that provide us with this information. If they suddenly stop functioning properly, it can make a person very fearful and insecure.
Regardless of the eye disease someone may suffer from, modern medicine has remedies that can almost always save the eyesight. The most important prerequisite is early detection and diagnosis. Consequently, eye doctors and optometrists recommend that everyone see an eye care professional for an exam once a year starting from age 40. If a disease is discovered in its early stages, counter-measures can be taken before permanent damage occurs.
About 4% of all children in the U.S. suffer from esotropia – a condition we refer to as being “cross-eyed.” This eye disease is one of the most common maladies to affect the organs of sight. The problem is hereditary. Important to know: Being cross-eyed is by no means only a cosmetic defect. The eyes of children who have strabismus are positioned at a false angle to one another, causing the child to see mostly double images. To counter-balance this unpleasant state, the brain uses a trick: The eye that is not affected by the condition begins to do all the work alone and the other eye is “shut down.” The result: The unused eye continues to weaken and eventually goes nearly blind, although it would actually be fully functional if corrected. The biggest problem: From around age of 6, all the visual processes are so set in their ways that any treatment initiated after that age will not be successful. Experts differentiate between several different types of esotropia:
Important information: A baby cannot focus on objects yet, so it is normal if the eyes are not parallel at times. The condition becomes problematic when the direction of one eye consistently deviates from that of the other. Another possible warning sign is if the child is “clumsy.” It can sometimes be difficult for parents to assess whether the child is cross-eyed or not. An examination by an ophthalmologist will clarify this.
Treatment options for the different types of esotropia vary. The most common is occlusion therapy. An eye mask is placed over the “good” eye to force the impaired eye to do its work. Sometimes placing a cover over one side of the eyeglasses does the trick. Either way, the brain is compelled to support and train the weak eye.
The earlier this treatment is initiated, the greater the chances of success. If the esotropia persists despite all of these efforts, surgery can be performed on the affected eye on pre-school age children.
The name cataract comes from the Greek word for waterfall. In ancient times, scholars thought that the recognizable gray color of the person’s pupils was trickling water. Today we know better: Proteins that clump together in the lens of the eye are to blame for this opacity. Nicotine consumption is the culprit in most cases, but diabetes and UV rays can also be triggers. Cataract sufferers thus feel as if they are always looking through frosted glass. Fortunately, excellent options are now available to treat this disease. The clouded lenses are removed in outpatient surgery and replaced by artificial lenses, a routine procedure that doctors perform more and more often in the U.S. every year.
This eye disease is much more malicious because it does not cause any pain. Increasing internal eye pressure leads to insidious retinal damage and finally to the deterioration of the optic nerve. In German, the disease is called “grüner Star” (green star), because when the internal eye pressure is very high, a person can see a green halo around light sources. The disease is only curable if detected early. Special medication (eye drops) can save the eyesight. Consequently, it is imperative that the eyes be examined regularly. Once nerve fibers are lost, they can never be recovered.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in the U.S. It is a typical seniors’ malady, usually appearing in old age. The retina is no longer supplied as well as it once was, and cells gradually begin to die off. The early stage of this disease can be detected in a quick eye test. For example, if an AMD sufferer looks at a gap between tiles in the bathroom, he/she will see a bend that isn’t really there.
Once degeneration becomes more advanced, vision cells in the retina at the point of sharpest vision, called the macula, gradually decay. Only the peripheries are spared from deterioration. As a result, if someone with AMD were to look at a street, he/she would see the houses on the right and left, but not the cars on the road. This eye disorder appears in two forms:
Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness in old age. This is a retinal disorder that usually develops as a result of diabetes and. Permanently increased blood sugar levels lead to mutations in the retina’s blood vessels, causing visual disorders and eyesight loss. Doctors differentiate between three different forms:
It is therefore very important that all diabetics be properly treated. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Laser treatment can slow blood vessel mutation at an early stage. In the case of advanced illness, complex surgery is required to keep the patient from going blind.
It burns, it itches and it feels like tiny grains of sand over the pupils. Blinding sun, acrid exhaust fumes, airborne pollen, dust and computer flickering can trigger these unpleasant symptoms. Normally, lachrymal fluid rinses the foreign particles from the eye and supplies the eye with oxygen and nutrients.
But the wet film can run dry, leading to the well-known feeling of having a grain of sand in your eye. The most common triggers are staring at the screen for too long, dry ambient air and car air-conditioning systems. Hormonal disorders and medications, such as birth control pills or beta blockers, can also cause these conditions.
However, the cause may be something other than insufficient lachrymal fluid production. Sometimes the tears’ consistency is not right. So-called “synthetic tears” are the best help for both forms. This is when drops or gels serve as tear replacements. The drops are poured into the lower conjunctiva sac. Then, with the eyelids shut, one should “roll” his/her eyes to distribute the substance.
Caution: Using drops for too long and too frequently can cause the eye to produce less and less lachrymal fluid. It is therefore important to discuss the causes with your doctor and remedy them when possible (changing pills, avoiding stimulants).
One more tip for recreation: Wear goggles when swimming in heavily chlorinated pools. Surgery should be considered as a last resort if topical treatment does not help. In this process, the draining lachrymal ducts are either completely or partially closed so that the lachrymal fluid does not flow out as fast.
Someone suffering from this eye disease can still read a newspaper or a book because he/she sees the world in a sort of tunnel vision. Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic condition that affects around 100,000 people in the U.S.
Due to a hereditary defect, the photosensitive cells in the retina gradually die off. The rods responsible for night and mesopic vision are the first to go. Typically, the cells decay from the outside in. The macula in the centre of the eye is spared at first, so patients with this eye disease can continue reading for a long time. In severe cases, all cells eventually die off.
In the majority of cases, the onset of this condition occurs at a young age. Both eyes are equally affected. At first, people with retinitis pigmentosa can no longer see well at twilight, then they have night blindness and finally only a small tunnel remains.
Tinted visual aids that prevent excessively strong glare can help. Advances in genetics and molecular biology are raising hopes. Experts hope that it is only a matter of time before a successful therapy is possible.
Doctors at the University Hospital in Aachen, Germany have celebrated an initial success. They developed a completely implantable visual prosthesis which they have used on six patients. The prosthesis is linked to a camera that sends image signals to the implant wirelessly. A part of the nerve cell must still be intact in order for the implant to be successfully used.
Flashes of light / Retinal detachment
People who see flashes of light when their eyes are closed should make an appointment with the eye doctor, because this symptom is characteristic of age-related vitreous change.
The reason for this eye disease: Over the years, initially harmless deposits form in the vitreous body, and collagen fibers clump together. Water-filled gaps form because the glass body liquefies. During eye movements, the firm structures floating inside them are perceived as moving shadows, thin threads or fluff balls. These so-called mouches volantes are disruptive, but are not yet dangerous and do not require treatment.
If the liquefaction progresses, however, the vitreous bodies can become completely or partially detached from their base. There are two different forms: Incomplete and complete vitreous body detachment.
In the case of incomplete detachment, connections remain between the vitreous body barrier and the retina. When people suffering from this disease move, tensile forces occur in the retina, causing flashes of light. Once the vitreous body is fully detached, the flashes of light disappear. In the case of complete vitreous body detachment, the retina can break down, leading to retinal detachment and even vitreous body bleeding.
For diagnosis, the doctor examines the vitreous body with a slit lamp and a contact lens and inspects the fundus of the eye. These complications must be treated as soon as possible because surgery is required for retinal detachments.