5 Most Asked Questions About Eye Health
As a team of qualified optometrists and dispensing opticians, our patients ask us questions about eye health every single day.
We’d be disappointed if they didn’t – it’s our job to make sure everyone who comes into our practice understands what’s going on with their vision – if it’s changing (better or worse).
Here are some of the questions we get asked most regularly.
1. I can see flashing lights and floaters – should I be worried?
In most cases, flashing lights and floaters are a normal part of the ageing process. The symptoms can last anywhere from three to six months but they will decrease quite dramatically after the first month. It’s still a good idea for you to get your eyes looked at – book an eye test.
Flashing Lights & Floaters In More Detail
As we get older the vitreous gel inside the eye tends to contract and change its consistency. As it does this it pulls away from the retina and in many cases this stimulates the retina to cause flashing lights. As it changes consistency it forms small thread or floater-like pigmentation. This type of aging process is called a posterior vitreous detachment. The symptoms can last anywhere from three to six months but they will decrease quite dramatically after the first month.
In a very small percentage of cases flashing lights or floaters can be a sign of a retinal tear or a retinal detachment. These are very serious sight threatening conditions. The usual symptoms of a retinal tear or detachment are sudden appearance of lots of floaters (usually in one eye), flashes of light a bit like a lightening flash (again usually in one eye), blurred vision, and in some cases a gradual reduction in your side vision, a bit like a curtain or a shadow coming down over your eyes.
In all cases of flashing lights and floaters you should seek the opinion of an Optometrist or an Ophthalmologist to rule out any sinister retinal condition such as a tear or detachment which may be sight threatening.
2. I don’t wear glasses normally – should I wear them for working at a computer?
Our eyes are not designed to carry out prolonged close-up work, ie looking at objects less than arms-length for long periods of time. And since much of our working lives, and a lot of recreational time, is spent looking at a computer screen of some description, it’s always advised to get your eyes tested if you work at a computer or regularly look at a phone, tablet, cash register etc.
Glasses For Computer Work In More Detail
In evolutionary terms we are still hunter gatherers, so our visual system is designed to look at distance objects such as animals running around on the horizon for us to catch and eat, or for us to avoid being eaten ourselves! It is probably only over the last thirty years that people have spent so long looking at computer screens. Prolonged use of computers can cause blurred vision, headaches and dry eyes. It is important that you have a regular eye examination at least every two years to ensure that your eyesight is up to the demands of prolonged computer work.
We should all remember to have regular breaks away from the computer screen. The Americans have a rule which they call the 20/20/20 rule. This means that every 20 minutes you should look away for 20 seconds to a distance of 20 meters. The reason for this is that it forces you to relax you eye muscles when looking into the distance, it forces you to blink which means that it helps your dry eyes, and in many cases, it helps prevent the onset of headaches by giving you a physical and mental break from the work you are doing. Some people over the age of 50 or 55 need specific spectacles for computer work to use in conjunction with their varifocals or reading spectacles.
If you have not had an eye examination and you are having symptoms please contact your Optometrist as soon as you can.
3. Will my eyesight get worse as I get older?
This will differ from person to person. Some people will never need glasses. Many people only needed glasses from their mid-40s and, for those who’ve worn glasses since childhood, it’s common for our prescriptions to change over the years.
Eyesight & Age Work In More Detail
In order to focus on specific objects, we change the shape of our eye lenses, without even knowing we’re doing it. When we are young, we can comfortably change the shape of the lens by exerting force on our muscles inside the eye. This means we can focus from far distance to very close.
Unfortunately, once we get past 45 the amount of elasticity in the lens is dramatically reduced and this means we cannot focus on near objects. This loss of focusing ability can lead to headaches, or the inability to read small print. To try and cope with this loss of ability most people push the text towards arm’s length or increase the lighting when trying to read.
Most people between the ages of 45 and 48 will start to need reading spectacles because of this natural loss in focusing. If you are in this position, please ensure that you have a regular eye examination at least every two years as your Optometrist may be able to help.
4. Could my eyesight be causing headaches?
In some cases, yes, your eyes could be causing headaches. This can be something fairly simple such as doing too much computer work without a break. But other factors, such as needing spectacles, will often cause headaches.
Headaches and Eyesight In More Detail
There are over 150 types of headaches! Ranging from migraines, tension headaches, hormonal headaches and sinus headaches to name but a few.
These are often triggered by illness , stress, hormone levels or environmental factors such as pollen, dust, bright lights and loud noise levels.
General health issues such as undiagnosed raised blood pressure, mini stroke or even raised intra cranial pressure (where the pressure of the fluid in your spinal chord is too high) will often cause headaches.
However in some cases your eyes could be causing the headaches. This can be something fairly simple such as doing too much computer work without a break. But other factors such as needing spectacles will often cause headaches.
One of the main causes of eye related headaches is that people are often long sighted but they don’t realise it. They use their eye muscles to try and hold things in focus. But this effort cannot be sustained for long periods and so leads to headaches. Similarly if you have uncorrected astigmatism or even short sightedness will in some cases cause headaches.
Binocular vision problems where your two eye struggle to work will also cause headaches as will eye diseases such as Glaucoma, Optic neuritis and Giant Cell Arteritis. These last two conditions are very serious as they can be a sign of dangerous general health conditions.
If you have headaches you should see a GP for a full general health check. Many GPs will recommend an in-depth eye examination to check your eyes are ok. So it is often best to have an eye examination before you see the GP so they can tick that off their list of potential causes of your headaches.
5. Will I get cataracts when I get older?
This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions by patients to Optometrists. If we all live long enough, we will probably develop cataracts to a greater or lesser degree. In other words the main cause of cataracts is age.
Cataracts In More Detail
The reason we develop cataracts is that, as we get older, the metabolism of the lens inside our eyes starts to change which results in loss of transparency of the lens and it starts to become opaque.
This process can start in our late 40s but in most cases doesn’t affect our vision until we get into our 70s or even our 80s.
In some people they will develop quicker if you are on certain medications such as steroids or if you have certain systemic conditions such as Diabetes. Other factors which can affect cataract development are if there is a family history, smoking , eye injuries, exposure to sunlight and excessive alcohol consumption.
Treatment of cataracts in the early stages is simply to have your spectacles regularly updated however as the cataract increases you can have an operation to remove the cataract.
We usually refer patients for an operation when they are experiencing significant symptoms such as blurred distance vision even when wearing their spectacles.Or if they have problems with glare in bright sunlight or struggle being dazzled with oncoming car headlights when night driving.
The operation these days is usually straightforward and takes only 15-30mins. Now a days you only have a local anaesthetic usually administered in the form of drops. It is not particularly uncomfortable and your vision improves almost immediately.
We examine your eyes 3-4 weeks after the operation once the eye has settled and issue new spectacles as required.