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Medical Conditions That Affect The Eye

What is Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, most commonly due to an allergic reaction or an infection that is usually bacterial or viral. Symptoms of conjunctivitis can be an indicator of what type it may be. However, redness, irritation, and watering of the eyes are symptoms that can be common to all forms of conjunctivitis.

Allergic conjunctivitis is typically itchy and can sometimes be accompanied by lid swelling. Viral conjunctivitis is often associated with an upper respiratory tract infection, a common cold, or a sore throat. Its symptoms mainly include watery discharge and sometimes itchy eyes. The infection usually begins with one eye, but may spread easily to the other eye. Bacterial conjunctivitis is due to common bacteria and causes marked irritation and a stringy, or yellowish mucopurulent discharge that may cause the lids to stick together, especially upon awakening. Another symptom that could be caused by bacterial conjunctivitis is severe crusting of the infected eye and the surrounding skin. However discharge is not essential to the diagnosis and bacterial conjunctivitis, as a whole, is not as common as most believe. Most allergic conditions are mistaken as bacterial conjunctivitis. Similar to viral conjunctivitis, bacterial infections usually affect only one eye but may spread easily to the other eye.

See an eye care professional to diagnose a possible conjunctivitis in order to begin a thorough and accurate treatment plan.

How does Diabetes affect the eye?

Diabetes is a metabolic disease affecting small blood vessels and associated with defective insulin action and/or secretion that results in high blood glucose (sugar). Increased glucose causes blood to become thicker and flow unnaturally. Poor blood flow causes an improper flow of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs.

Changes within blood vessels inside the body can be seen in the eye. Blood flow becomes stagnant and begins to leak out of the vessels. Lack of oxygen to needed areas sparks new vessel growth called neovascularization. The areas of new vessels are weak and are prone to break and bleed. The areas that lack the proper oxygen levels become ischemic (not receiving adequate blood flow) and die. While all this is going on inside the body, the eye is also extremely fragile in this state. The neovascularization can cause swelling and bleeding in the back of the eye and eventually lead to blindness.

Diabetes is one of the leading cause of blindness among most adults. Almost 21 million people in the United States have diabetes and more than five million of those are undiagnosed. It is imapairitive for diabetics to have annual dilated fundus examinations to assess the health of their eyes and body.

For more information on Diabetes, visit the American Diabetic Organization.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma describes a group of eye diseases associated with increased eye pressure. Naturally, the ciliary body produces a liquid, called aqueous, that provides nourishment to the cornea. Although there are many forms of glaucoma, they are generally associated with an increase in pressure that occurs in the anterior chamber (between the cornea and lens) that is either due to an over production of aqueous or a faulty drainage system. The increased pressure causes strain on the optic nerve, which is the plug from the brain to the back of the eye. Since the optic nerve is very fragile, permanent damage easily occurs and results in destruction of the nerve fiber layer. This, in turn, results in an increase in the size of the cup to disc ratio. Also noted are small hemorrhages that can appear on the optic nerve, called drance hemorrhages, that can be diagnostic and a significant sign of glaucoma progression. Although there are usually no symptoms associated with glaucoma, damage to the optic nerve and nerve fiber layer causes peripheral field loss that can eventually lead to blindness.

Glaucoma is a slow, but progressive disease so it is imperative that "glaucoma suspects" have annual dilated fundus examinations to monitor any changes in the appearance of the optic nerve and cup to disc ratio. Other tests, including regular pressure checks, an analysis of the nerve fiber layer, visual field tests, corneal thickness measurements, and anterior chamber angle assessment are needed to accurately diagnose a patient with glaucoma.

For more information about glaucoma and the different types, visit the National Eye Institute

How does High Blood Pressure affect the eye?

First and foremost, high blood pressure is totally unrelated to high eye pressure and glaucoma. High blood pressure is a disease of the arteries that carry blood (and oxygen) from the heart to all parts of the body. High blood pressure increases the risk of developing heart disease, kidney disease, hardening of the arteries, damage to the retina (back of the eye), and stroke.

When high blood pressure affects the retina, most patients usually do not have any visual symptoms, although occasionally some may present with decreased vision. In the retina, it presents as narrowing of the blood vessels, hemorrhages (bleeding in the back of the eye), and other signs including areas of dead tissue from a lack of oxygen and swelling. Patients with extremely high blood pressure may present with swelling of the optic nerve, which is a very serious but treatable problem, as the optic nerve is responsible for carrying information to the brain.

Along with a good diet, regular exercise, and self-monitoring, people with high blood pressure should have a dilated eye exam yearly in order to maintain good ocular health and make necessary adjustments to maximize their physical health.

For more information on High Blood Pressure and other cardiovascular diseases, visit the American Heart Association.

What is Macular Degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is a degenerative disease of the retina that results in damage to macular cells, the cells responsible for your central vision. It is the most common cause of legal blindness in the United States, and 10% of people over the age of 65 are affected. ARMD has a hereditary component and research has shown that smoking, high blood pressure, heart disease, exposure to ultraviolet light, and low blood levels of antioxidants, such as carotenoids, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E are all factors that can cause the development and progression of the disease.

People with macular degeneration may initially be asymptomatic. Other symptoms can include blurred vision, a central blind spot, and/or metamorphopsia, which is a defect of vision where objects appear to be distorted; usually due to a defect in the retina.

The earliest changes that can be seen by your primary eyecare provider are round, elevated, yellow/grey deposits in the retina during a dilated fundus examination (called "drusen"). Although there is no cure for macular degeneration, controlling the risk factors mentioned, and taking vitamins and antioxidants beforehand can delay the development of the disease.

For more information on Macular Degeneration, visit the National Eye Institute.

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