Common eye conditions – symptoms and possible treatments


We get asked questions regularly about conditions that affect the eyes, so let’s take a look at a few of the most common ones.

Conjunctivitis

is a common condition caused by inflammation of the membrane that protects the white of the eye and inside the eyelids. It can be caused by an infection, allergen or irritant. Conjunctivitis caused by bacteria or viruses is very contagious and care should be taken not to spread the infection to the other eye or other people. The eye/s are often red, irritated, gritty, sore and uncomfortable. In bacterial conjunctivitis, often only one eye is affected and there is a sticky white or yellow discharge that can glue the eyelids together. If caused by a viral infection, the discharge is usually thinner and white and happens with a cold or sore throat. Allergic conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes and causes them to be itchy and watery. It often occurs alongside allergies.

Bacterial conjunctivitis should clear within a week if untreated but antibiotic drops may be used to prevent complications or to prevent the spread of infection. Antibiotic eye drops and ointment that contain Chloramphenicol are available from our pharmacists.

Antihistamine eye drops and tablets are useful to relieve itchy and irritated eyes in allergic conjunctivitis. Irritant conjunctivitis can have a mechanical or chemical cause, such as foreign objects or chlorine from a pool. If mild, rinse the eye with saline but in all other cases, go to the hospital.

Dry eye

can also make your eyes feel sore, burning and gritty. The eyes can look red and vision blurred. It occurs when there aren’t enough tears, or they are poor quality, reducing their ability to lubricate movement and wash away debris. It is common in older people; people who work on computers or are in heating/air conditioning; in some diseases and contact lens wearers. Dry eye can be painful and cause sensitivity to bright light, air and wind. Sometimes when the eyes are dry, they will overproduce thin tears to try and compensate, causing excessive tearing.

If you can identify the cause of the dry eye, address it – change medications or contact lenses, treat blepharitis or train yourself to blink more if working on computers all day. Otherwise, artificial tears or ointment from the pharmacy can alleviate the symptoms. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils may also decrease the irritation.

Try protecting your eyes from sun and wind by wearing wrap-around sunglasses; avoid irritants such as smoke, dust, cosmetics and chlorine; avoid air conditioners, hair dryers or dehumidifiers that dry the air.

Glaucoma

is a long term condition where increased pressure in the eye ball damages the optic nerve, affecting vision. The eye works like an old-style camera. Light comes in through the cornea and pupil, the lens focuses it onto the retina at the back of the eye. The image is taken to the brain by the optic nerve for us to “see”. The shape of the eye ball is maintained by the fluid inside it.

Glaucoma often affects the peripheral (or side) vision first but this can go unnoticed. As more nerve fibres are damaged, more vision is lost until treatment can begin to stop or slow down the progression. As the damage is irreversible, regular checks are important for early detection. Family history of glaucoma, diabetes, previous eye injuries, sleep apnoea, steroid use and being male are all risk factors for the condition.

Certain foods and supplements may help to prevent Glaucoma developing. Lecithin and Evening Primrose oil are great additions to your diet. Antioxidants vitamin A and E can be great for eyesight in general while lutein and zeaxanthin are more specifically used to prevent glaucoma. Kumara, carrots, avocados, olives, kale, Swiss chard and other dark green leafy vegetables are great sources of these. If glaucoma does develop, your doctor may prescribe eye drops to reduce the pressure inside the eye and prevent further vision loss.

Macular degeneration

is another chronic condition and occurs when the central part of the light-sensitive retina, the macula, deteriorates. The retina processes visual images and deterioration results in loss of central vision but the peripheral vision is not affected. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in New Zealand affecting one in seven people over 60 years.

Although the cause of macular degeneration is unclear, lifestyle factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, lack of exercise and poor nutrition may increase risk. Eat a diet rich in fish for omega-3 fatty acids; dark green leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and berries for helpful nutrients, especially vitamins A, C, E and zinc. Try cooked tomatoes and carrots as good sources of antioxidants lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. Have your eyes tested regularly and protect them from sun damage by wearing sunglasses.


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