Eye problems can vary from minor issues to major conditions. The eye is one of the most complex parts of the body, and many other conditions not localised to the eye can also lead to problems with it.
- Vision changes and inflammation are common issues
- Many specific conditions have characteristic symptoms
- Treatment varies depending on the cause
If you have a problem with your eye and would like to speak to a clinician online, you can do so via our video consultation service. One of our GMC-registered doctors can help diagnose your condition and let you know if you need any treatment.
The eye is a very sensitive part of the body, and the most common issues arise from inflammation from dust or dirt, causing a minor infection.
Many problems with the eyes develop as part of the natural ageing process, and are nothing to worry about. Symptoms in the eye can also be an indication of a serious condition in the body such as jaundice.
What types of eye problem are there?
Conditions affecting the surface of the eye
Problems with the conjunctiva (clear layer at the front of the eye) do not usually affect vision, but vision can be affected if the cornea (focuses the vision) or iris (controls pupil size) has any issues.
Conjunctivitis is a very common condition, and is caused by an infection, resulting in the conjunctiva becoming inflamed. The eyes will often be red and itchy, and sometimes sticky. It can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, or triggered by an allergy.
It's also possible for conjunctivitis to occur when the conjunctiva comes into contact with a potential irritant, such as shampoo.
Dry eye syndrome occurs when the tear film, which normally maintains the moistness of the eye, is not functioning properly. There are various waters and oils which the eye produces to lubricate it, so that debris can be cleared and infection prevented. If these processes are not functioning as they should, dry eye syndrome can manifest.
Conditions related to focusing and the lens
These problems with the eyes are known as refractive errors, and are caused by the lens changing shape due to various factors.
Common refractive errors include:
- Nearsightedness - a condition where light comes into focus in front of the retina, causing objects further away to appear blurry.
- Farsightedness - the opposite to nearsightedness, where objects which are nearer appear blurry.
- Astigmatism - this occurs when light is not focused evenly on to the retina, resulting in images appearing blurry and stretched.
- Presbyopia - a condition related to age, where the eye’s ability to focus becomes increasingly difficult. The lens cannot change shape in the same way, so objects become harder to see.
Conditions affecting the eyelids
The eyelids are very sensitive, and can easily become inflamed. Common conditions which develop on the eyelids include:
- Chalazion - a small cyst which usually forms on the upper eyelid
- Stye - a small spot which forms on the bottom of the eyelid due to a minor infection
- Blepharitis - a recurring condition in which inflammation of the eyelids makes them feel sore and itchy.
Conditions related to eye fluid
If fluid in the eye is not being produced or drained properly, different types of glaucoma may develop. Glaucoma leads to damage of the optic nerve, as the increased pressure from the fluid build-up takes its toll. In those over the age of 60, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness.
What symptoms do different eye problems cause?
Conditions affecting the eye can have a variety of symptoms depending on the cause. Inflammation, itchiness and soreness are common symptoms of an eye infection. Dryness in the eye can also cause the feeling of grittiness (as if there is a foreign object in the eye).
Conditions which are related to a refractive issue do not usually cause any pain, but can cause vision disturbance. Objects can become blurry or appear different in shape depending on how the lens has been affected.
Floaters and flashes are common complaints for those who are short-sighted. Floaters are tiny blacks specs which appear to float around. They are nothing to worry about in most cases, but if they increase dramatically in frequency this can be an indication of retinal detachment.
Many problems with the eye develop over an extended period of time. In glaucoma for example, symptoms may not be noticed initially, but peripheral vision is lost gradually, and tunnel vision develops in advanced stages. For this reason, it is crucial for glaucoma to be assessed early.
How are eye problems diagnosed?
Most problems with the eye will be diagnosed using an eye examination. The doctor will ask about the nature of your eye problem and when you noticed symptoms, as well as how your eye has been affected. They will also want to ascertain whether the problem is a physical feeling (soreness or itchiness, for example) or if your vision has been affected.
If there is a suspected issue at the front of the eye, a doctor will provide some numbing eye drops so that it is easier for them to examine the eye. It is likely that they will use some lights to assess the general health of the eye, looking for any discolouration or cloudiness.
There are many specific diagnostic tests for eye problems. Some of the possible exams include:
- Eye muscle test - involves a doctor moving a visual stimulus to see how the muscles in your eye react.
- Visual acuity test - a very common test which involves looking at some letters on a chart of varying sizes.
- Perimetry test - a doctor will be able to determine how effective your overall field of vision is from this test.
- Slit-lamp examination - a slit-lamp lights up the front of your eye at extreme intensity, which reveals any damaged cells.
- Refraction exam - a light is shone in the eye and the movement at which the light is reflected back through the pupil is evaluated with a computerised refractor. They may also use a phoropter, which contains many different lenses to look through to test your vision.
What treatments are there for eye problems?
There are many different treatment options for problems with the eyes, depending on what the cause of the problem is. Infections at the surface of the eye such as conjunctivitis can be treated with artificial tears and a cool compress to soothe the eye, with a prescription of topical steroid eye drop if the conjunctivitis is allergic. For bacterial conjunctivitis, antibiotic eye drops can be used for three to four days in order to clear the infection.
A condition such as dry eyes can also be treated in a similar way to conjunctivitis, with artificial tears and ointments to lubricate the eye. It is also possible that a doctor can recommend surgery to insert tear duct plugs in the corner of the eye. It can also help to make some lifestyle adjustments, such as avoiding too much screen exposure.
Problems to do with refraction are often treated with the prescription of corrective glasses with lenses designed to make you see better, or contact lenses. Rarely, refractive surgery may be necessary. Depending on the severity of your refractive error, you may only need to wear glasses for specific occasions such as driving or reading, or you may have to wear them permanently.
For severe problems such as retinal detachment, a doctor may recommend laser surgery to try and weld the retina back into place, which is a very complex procedure. It is also possible to have a vitrectomy, which involves making an incision in the white of the eye and injecting some gas into it, to push the retina back into position.
Talking to a doctor about eye problems online
If you think that you may have a problem with one or both of your eyes, one of our GMC-registered doctors will be available to speak to you via our online video doctor service. You can book an appointment at a suitable time for you.