What are eye disorders and how to treat them

Common eye problems are nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism (distorted vision), and presbyopia. The latter starts at about age 40 when most people have trouble focusing on close objects. All four conditions can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Many serious eye disorders can be treated or prevented if you heed certain danger signals. Flashes of light or floating shapes seen before the eyes may indicate a detached retina. See a doctor promptly.

In the course of an eye examination, anyone over 40 should be tested for glaucoma, a disorder that can lead to blindness. Because there are no overt symptoms until sight is affected, it is important to have this test yearly, especially if there is glaucoma in your family. In most cases glaucoma can be stabilized with eyedrops.

Cataracts, another common age related eye disorder, are opaque areas that cloud the lens, progressively reducing vision. The only treatment is surgery to remove the affected lens. Vision is then corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses or with plastic lenses implanted during surgery.

Still another threat to sight, macular degeneration, usually develops gradually and painlessly but eventually destroys central vision. Although the condition usually is untreatable, eyeglasses with powerful magnifying lenses can often improve vision. If, as happens rarely, it begins with the sudden onset of distortion and “blank spots,” see a doctor promptly; sometimes it can be treated with a laser.

A child with crossed eyes should be seen by an eye doctor as soon as you notice the condition. It is caused by weak eye muscles; youngsters do not outgrow it. Treatment maybe as simple as glasses or a patch over the unaffected eye so that the child is forced to use the weak one. A severe case may require surgery. Have a child’s eyes tested before he enters school; otherwise, an undetected problem may hamper learning. From childhood on, periodic vision tests are vital: every year until about age 20; less often between ages 20 and 40, when vision changes little; and yearly after that.

Suspect problems if a child rubs his eyes often, shuts or covers one eye, is highly sensitive to light, if one eye turns in or out, or if his eyes burn or are red, teary, or itchy. At any age if there is a sudden change in vision or if you are squinting, holding your work close to your eyes, or making unusual efforts to see, have your eyes tested.

An optometrist is trained and authorized to test visual acuity, using a chart from which you read letters of diminishing size from a set distance. He can prescribe and make glasses or contact lenses and test for glaucoma. An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor, who can, in addition, diagnose and treat eye disease, and examine eyes for internal problems.