optometrist examining eye

Common Eye Problems

Many common eye problems can be treated easily with the help of your optometrist or ophthalmologist including clogged tear ducts, pink eye, chronic dry eyes or macular degeneration. Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of these ailments, and contact an optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately if you believe you are suffering from one of these eye problems.

Clogged Tear Ducts: Clogged or blocked tear ducts are relatively common among newborns and infants, but become less likely as you age. When your eyes are functioning properly, tears that are produced by the eye drain through tear ducts that connect to the nasal cavity. If a tear duct becomes blocked or clogged, drainage is prevented and fluid may build up in the tear duct sac. This excess fluid can lead to swelling and infection.

The most common sign of a clogged or blocked tear duct is frequent tearing—either having watery eyes or actually having tears dripping down your cheeks. If the tear duct sac becomes infected, you may experience redness or swelling around the eye, or mucus. In babies, these symptoms become apparent very quickly, and are usually the result of tissues lining the tear ducts failing to open properly after birth. While babies do not usually need treatment for a clogged tear duct, because most often their tear duct will open naturally by the time they are one, it is important that you consult with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to find out ways to keep the eye clean and free of infection. There are also some minor surgical procedures and non-invasive techniques to help open a tear duct in a child or infant. Adult blocked tear ducts are often the result of aging (which can change the eyes and the skin around the eyes) or injury. A clogged or blocked tear duct can also be the result of a tumor. Treatment for a clogged or blocked tear duct in adults varies on the cause of the blockage, and can be discussed with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Pink Eye: Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a very common eye condition that involves the swelling or infection of the conjunctiva (the membranes that line the eyes). Pink eye or conjunctivitis has many causes and can be found in people of all ages. Conjunctivitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria, allergies, or even extended contact wear. In some rare instances, conjunctivitis can be caused by the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia.

The symptoms of pink eye or conjunctivitis are easily identified. The most common symptom is having a pink or red, irritated eye. Sometimes pink eye or conjunctivitis will cause your eye to itch or tear up excessively. Your eye may emit some sort of pus, or your eye could crust over and be difficult to open. You could notice that you have difficulty seeing, either because your vision is blurred, or you feel a heightened sensitivity to light.

Technically, pink eye refers only to the viral infection. This is the most common form of conjunctivitis, and is frequently found in young children. You may contract pink eye if you have a virus or sinus infection and you touch your eye after blowing your nose. Because pink eye is a virus, doctors usually do not prescribe treatment for it. Rather, the symptoms will gradually go away on their own and can be eased with compresses and good hygiene. Sometimes an optometrist or ophthalmologist will prescribe antibiotic drops to prevent pink eye from turning into bacterial conjunctivitis. Antibiotic eye drops will quickly clear up a case of bacterial conjunctivitis. For additional causes of conjunctivitis and information on related conditions, you may want to visit the National Institute of Health.

Chronic Dry Eyes: Chronically dry eyes can range from a minor nuisance to a major medical issue. Rather than trying to self-treat your frequent dry eye with over the counter drops, you should make an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist to discover the root cause of this eye problem and find an appropriate treatment. Chronic dry eyes may be referred to as Dry Eye Syndrome (DES), Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (KCS) or Keratitis Sicca. The most common cause of DES or KCS is insufficient production of tears. These diseases are also caused by tears that evaporate too quickly. Both of these conditions result in the cornea or conjunctiva being insufficiently lubricated. Over time, chronic dry eye creates minor abrasions on your cornea, which can eventually result in corneal scarring, thinning, or infection. In some rare instances, these conditions could become serious enough to result in loss of vision. If you experience any of the symptoms below on a consistent basis, contact an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

If you are suffering from DES or KCS, a constantly dry, itchy or scratchy feeling in your eyes will most likely alert you to the problem. Your eyes may burn or become red, and usually these symptoms will worsen as the day goes on. Some people experiencing DES or KCS describe the feeling as akin to a small particle or piece of dirt being stuck in your eye. Blinking will bring no relief (in fact, it will most often irritate the eye further). In some circumstances your eye will actually water or produce a thin discharge—but your symptoms will not be eased because the surface of your eye is still under-lubricated. These symptoms alone are usually enough for an optometrist or ophthalmologist to diagnose chronic dry eyes, although additional tests may be performed to test the quality of your tears and the amount of tear production.

There are a wide variety of methods used to treat chronic dry eyes, based on the severity and cause of the disease. Minor cases of DES can be eased with simple environmental and lifestyle changes. It is very important for people with dry eyes to drink enough water every day, to help keep your system as lubricated as possible. People with dry eyes should avoid smoky, windy and dusty environments. Air conditioners, fans and heaters can irritate dry eyes. If you have DES you should try not to rub or itch your eyes very often, and also practice purposefully blinking (perhaps less often than you normally would). Artificial tears do provide some temporary relief, but prescription drops called Restasis are usually more beneficial (as they work to help your eyes actually produce more tears). Some potential surgical procedures to help with debilitating DES include lacrimal or punctal plugs to prevent drainage or cauterization to close the tear ducts.

Macular Degeneration: Macular Degeneration, often called Age-Related Macular Degeneration or AMD, is a disease affecting older adults that involves the loss of sharp central vision. There are two types of Macular Degeneration or AMD, Wet AMD and Dry AMD. Both involve the macula, which is the part of the eye that sees detail. Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels in the eye begin to leak blood and fluid, damaging the macula. Damage to the macula occurs very quickly in Wet AMD. Dry AMD consists of the gradual disintegration of light-sensitive cells in the eye. As these cells break down, vision becomes blurry in the center of your eye and sometimes a blind spot in the middle of your vision field can occur. Macular Degeneration usually progresses gradually, but can rapidly debilitate the eyesight of some patients, and may eventually result in loss of vision in both eyes. Many older patients do not notice they are losing their eyesight, but Macular Degeneration can make daily tasks like driving difficult, which is why it’s important for adults over 60 to have annual eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

Although Wet and Dry AMD cause no pain, there are some early emerging symptoms that indicate you should immediately make an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. The most obvious indication of Dry AMD is the loss of detail in vision. You may notice words in a book or faces close to you appear blurry. Vision may improve in brightly lit areas. The telltale sign of Wet AMD is when straight lines look crooked. As both Dry and Wet AMD progress a blind spot in the center of the field of vision will develop.

An optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnose Dry or Wet AMD with a comprehensive eye exam. They may choose to perform a dilated eye exam, measure the pressure inside your eye or use an eye test chart. After you are diagnosed with AMD, your optometrist or ophthalmologist will discuss a variety of treatment options with you. Most treatment is aimed at slowing the progression of AMD because there is no cure for AMD and no way to restore already damaged vision. Wet AMD may be treated with laser therapy or certain kinds of injections. Photodynamic therapy involves an injection into the arm that then travels to the eye to destroy unhealthy, leaking blood vessels in the macula. After receiving the injection, the optometrist or ophthalmologist will activate the medicine by shining a light in your eye. An optometrist or ophthalmologist may also choose to perform anti-VEGF therapy, a series of monthly injections directly into the eye. Dry AMD is more difficult to treat, but optometrists and ophthalmologists believe that a formula of antioxidants and zinc may help prevent the advancement of AMD.