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5 Common Blinding Eye Diseases

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve is damaged in a characteristic pattern. This can permanently damage vision in the affected eye(s) and lead to blindness if left untreated. It is normally associated with increased fluid pressure in the eye (aqueous humour).[1] The term "ocular hypertension" is used for people with consistently raised intraocular pressure (IOP) without any associated optic nerve damage. Conversely, the term 'normal tension' or 'low tension' glaucoma is used for those with optic nerve damage and associated visual field loss, but normal or low IOP.
The nerve damage involves loss of retinal ganglion cells in a characteristic pattern. The many different subtypes of glaucoma can all be considered to be a type of optic neuropathy. Raised intraocular pressure (above 21 mmHg or 2.8 kPa) is the most important and only modifiable risk factor for glaucoma. However, some may have high eye pressure for years and never develop damage, while others can develop nerve damage at a relatively low pressure. Untreated glaucoma can lead to permanent damage of the optic nerve and resultant visual field loss, which over time can progress to blindness.
Glaucoma can be roughly divided into two main categories, "open-angle" and "closed-angle" (or "angle closure") glaucoma. The angle refers to the area between the iris and cornea, through which fluid must flow to escape via the trabecular meshwork. Closed-angle glaucoma can appear suddenly and is often painful; visual loss can progress quickly, but the discomfort often leads patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs. Open-angle, chronic glaucoma tends to progress at a slower rate and patients may not notice they have lost vision until the disease has progressed significantly.
Glaucoma has been called the "silent thief of sight" because the loss of vision often occurs gradually over a long period of time, and symptoms only occur when the disease is quite advanced. Once lost, vision cannot normally be recovered, so treatment is aimed at preventing further loss. Worldwide, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness after cataracts.[2][3] It is also the leading cause of blindness among African Americans.[4] Glaucoma affects one in 200 people aged 50 and younger, and one in 10 over the age of eighty. If the condition is detected early enough, it is possible to arrest the development or slow the progression with medical and surgical means. Screening for glaucoma in the general population is however unsupported by the evidence.

Diagnosis

 

Screening for glaucoma is usually performed as part of a standard eye examination performed by optometrists, orthoptists and ophthalmologists. Testing for glaucoma should include measurements of the intraocular pressure via tonometry, changes in size or shape of the eye, anterior chamber angle examination or gonioscopy, and examination of the optic nerve to look for any visible damage to it, or change in the cup-to-disc ratio and also rim appearance and vascular change. A formal visual field test should be performed. The retinal nerve fiber layer can be assessed with imaging techniques such as optical coherence tomography, scanning laser polarimetry, and/or scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, also known as Heidelberg retina tomography.[32][33]
Owing to the sensitivity of all methods of tonometry to corneal thickness, methods such as Goldmann tonometry should be augmented with pachymetry to measure central corneal thickness (CCT). A thicker-than-average cornea can result in a pressure reading higher than the 'true' pressure, whereas a thinner-than-average cornea can produce a pressure reading lower than the 'true' pressure.
Because pressure measurement error can be caused by more than just CCT (i.e., corneal hydration, elastic properties, etc.), it is impossible to 'adjust' pressure measurements based only on CCT measurements. The frequency doubling illusion can also be used to detect glaucoma with the use of a frequency doubling technology perimeter.
Examination for glaucoma also could be assessed with more attention given to sex, race, history of drug use, refraction, inheritance and family history.

Age-related macular degeneration

 

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a medical condition which usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina. It occurs in "dry" and "wet" forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults (>50 years). Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life.

 

Starting from the inside of the eye and going towards the outer surface, the three main layers at the back of the eye are the retina, which is light-sensitive tissue that is considered part of the central nervous system and is actually brain tissue; the choroid, which contains the blood supply; and the sclera, which is the white, outer, layer of the eye.

 

The macula is the central area of the retina, which provides the most detailed central vision.

 

In the dry (nonexudative) form, cellular debris called drusen accumulates between the retina and the choroid, and the retina can become detached. In the wet (exudative) form, which is more severe, blood vessels grow up from the choroid behind the retina, and the retina can also become detached. It can be treated with laser coagulation, and with medication that stops and sometimes reverses the growth of blood vessels.[1][2]

 

Although some macular dystrophies affecting younger individuals are sometimes referred to as macular degeneration, the term generally refers to age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD).

 

Age-related macular degeneration begins with characteristic yellow deposits (drusen) in the macula, between the retinal pigment epithelium and the underlying choroid. Most people with these early changes (referred to as age-related maculopathy) have good vision. People with drusen can go on to develop advanced AMD. The risk is higher when the drusen are large and numerous and associated with disturbance in the pigmented cell layer under the macula. Large and soft drusen are related to elevated cholesterol deposits and may respond to cholesterol-lowering agents.

Diagnosis

Fluorescein angiography allows for the identification and localization of abnormal vascular processes. Optical coherence tomography is now used by most ophthalmologists in the diagnosis and the follow-up evaluation of the response to treatment by using either bevacizumab (Avastin) or ranibizumab (Lucentis), which are injected into the vitreous humor of the eye at various intervals.

Recently, structured illumination light microscopy, using a specially designed super resolution microscope setup has been used to resolve the fluorescent distribution of small autofluorescent structures (lipofuscin granulae) in retinal pigment epithelium tissue sections.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy,[1] ([ˌrɛtnˈɑpəθi]) is retinopathy (damage to the retina) caused by complications of diabetes, which can eventually lead to blindness.[2] It is an ocular manifestation of diabetes, a systemic disease, which affects up to 80 percent of all patients who have had diabetes for 10 years or more.[3] Despite these intimidating statistics, research indicates that at least 90% of these new cases could be reduced if there was proper and vigilant treatment and monitoring of the eyes.[4] The longer a person has diabetes, the higher his or her chances of developing diabetic retinopathy.[5]

Diagnosis

Diabetic retinopathy is detected during an eye examination that includes:

Visual acuity test: This test uses an eye chart to measure how well a person sees at various distances (i.e., visual acuity).

Pupil dilation: The eye care professional places drops into the eye to widen the pupil. This allows him or her to see more of the retina and look for signs of diabetic retinopathy. After the examination, close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.

Ophthalmoscopy or fundus photography: Ophthalmoscopy is an examination of the retina in which the eye care professional: (1) looks through a slit lamp biomicroscope with a special magnifying lens that provides a narrow view of the retina, or (2) wearing a headset (indirect ophthalmoscope) with a bright light, looks through a special magnifying glass and gains a wide view of the retina. Hand-held ophthalmoscopy is insufficient to rule out significant and treatable diabetic retinopathy. Fundus photography generally recreate considerably larger areas of the fundus, and has the advantage of photo documentation for future reference, as well as availing the image to be examined by a specialist at another location and/or time.

Fundus Fluorescein angiography (FFA): This is an imaging technique which relies on the circulation of Fluorescein dye in the eye vasculature.

Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This is an optical imaging modality based upon interference, and analogous to ultrasound. It produces cross-sectional images of the retina (B-scans) which can be used to measure the thickness of the retina and to resolve its major layers, allowing the observation of swelling and or leakage.

Digital Retinal Screening Programs: Systematic programs for the early detection of eye disease including diabetic retinopathy are becoming more common, such as in the UK, where all people with diabetes mellitus are offered retinal screening at least annually. This involves digital image capture and transmission of the images to a digital reading center for evaluation and treatment referral. See Vanderbilt Ophthalmic Imaging Center [1] and the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme [2]

Slit Lamp Biomicroscopy Retinal Screening Programs: Systematic programs for the early detection of diabetic retinopathy using slit-lamp biomicroscopy. These exist either as a standalone scheme or as part of the Digital program (above) where the digital photograph was considered to lack enough clarity for detection and/or diagnosis of any retinal abnormality.

The eye care professional will look at the retina for early signs of the disease, such as: (1) leaking blood vessels, (2) retinal swelling, such as macular edema, (3) pale, fatty deposits on the retina (exudates) – signs of leaking blood vessels, (4) damaged nerve tissue (neuropathy), and (5) any changes in the blood vessels.

Should the doctor suspect macular edema, he or she may perform fluorescein angiography and sometimes OCT.

Cataract

Cataract is a clouding of the lens inside the eye which leads to a decrease in vision. It is the most common cause of blindness and is conventionally treated with surgery. Visual loss occurs because opacification of the lens obstructs light from passing and being focused on to the retina at the back of the eye.[1]

It is most commonly due to biological aging but there are a wide variety of other causes. Over time, yellow-brown pigment is deposited within the lens and this, together with disruption of the normal architecture of the lens fibers, leads to reduced transmission of light, which in turn leads to visual problems.

Those with cataract commonly experience difficulty appreciating colors and changes in contrast, driving, reading, recognizing faces, and experience problems coping with glare from bright lights.[2]

Prevention

Risk factors such as UV-B exposure and smoking can be addressed but are unlikely to make large difference to visual function. Although there has been no scientifically proven means of preventing cataracts, wearing ultraviolet-protecting sunglasses may slow the development.[21][22] While it had been thought that regular intake of antioxidants (such as vitamins A, C and E) would protect against the risk of cataracts, clinical trials have shown that their use as a supplement is not.[23] On the other hand, research is mixed, but weakly positive, for a potential protective effect of the nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin.[24] There is some evidence that statin use is associated with a lower risk of nuclear sclerotic cataract.[25]

Myopia

Myopia , commonly known as being nearsighted (American English) and shortsighted (British English), is a condition of the eye where the light that comes in does not directly focus on the retina but in front of it. This causes the image that one sees when looking at a distant object to be out of focus, but in focus when looking at a close object.

Eye care professionals most commonly correct myopia through the use of corrective lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses. It may also be corrected by refractive surgery, though there are cases of associated side effects. The corrective lenses have a negative optical power (i.e. have a net concave effect) which compensates for the excessive positive diopters of the myopic eye.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of myopia is typically confirmed during an eye examination performed by a specialized doctor, the ophthalmologist, or by an optometrist or orthoptist.[27] Frequently an autorefractor or retinoscope is used to give an initial objective assessment of the refractive status of each eye, then a phoropter is used to subjectively refine the patient's eyeglass prescription.

Eyeglasses, contact lenses, and refractive surgery are the primary options to treat the visual symptoms of those with myopia. Lens implants are now available offering an alternative to glasses or contact lenses for myopics for whom laser surgery is not an option. Orthokeratology is the practice of using special rigid contact lenses to flatten the cornea to reduce myopia. Occasionally, pinhole glasses are used by patients with low-level myopia. These work by reducing the blur circle formed on the retina, but their adverse effects on peripheral vision, contrast and brightness make them unsuitable in most situations.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of myopia is typically confirmed during an eye examination performed by a specialized doctor, the ophthalmologist, or by an optometrist or orthoptist.[27] Frequently an autorefractor or retinoscope is used to give an initial objective assessment of the refractive status of each eye, then a phoropter is used to subjectively refine the patient's eyeglass prescription.

Eyeglasses, contact lenses, and refractive surgery are the primary options to treat the visual symptoms of those with myopia. Lens implants are now available offering an alternative to glasses or contact lenses for myopics for whom laser surgery is not an option. Orthokeratology is the practice of using special rigid contact lenses to flatten the cornea to reduce myopia. Occasionally, pinhole glasses are used by patients with low-level myopia. These work by reducing the blur circle formed on the retina, but their adverse effects on peripheral vision, contrast and brightness make them unsuitable in most situations.

Hyperopia

Hyperopia, commonly known as being farsighted (American English), being longsighted (British English), or hypermetropia, is a defect of vision caused by an imperfection in the eye (often when the eyeball is too short or the lens cannot become round enough), causing difficulty focusing on near objects, and in extreme cases causing a sufferer to be unable to focus on objects at any distance. As an object moves toward the eye, the eye must increase its optical power to keep the image in focus on the retina. If the power of the cornea and lens is insufficient, as in hyperopia, the image will appear blurred.

People with hyperopia can experience blurred vision, asthenopia, accommodative dysfunction, binocular dysfunction, amblyopia, and strabismus.[1] another condition that frequently causes blurry near vision.[2] Presbyopes who report good far vision typically experience blurry near vision because of a reduced accommodative amplitude brought about by natural aging changes with the crystalline lens.[2] It is also sometimes referred to as farsightedness, since in otherwise normally-sighted persons it makes it more difficult to focus on near objects than on far objects.[3]

The causes of hyperopia are typically genetic and involve an eye that is too short or a cornea that is too flat, so that images focus at a point behind the retina.

Diagnosis

Visual acuity is affected according to the amount of hyperopia, as well as the patient's age, visual demands, and accommodative ability.[1]

In severe cases of hyperopia from birth, the brain has difficulty merging the images that each individual eye sees. This is because the images the brain receives from each eye are always blurred. A child with severe hyperopia has never seen objects in detail and might present with amblyopia or strabismus. If the brain never learns to see objects in detail, then there is a high chance that one eye will become dominant. The result is that the brain will block the impulses of the nondominant eye with resulting amblyopia or strabismus. In contrast, the child with myopia can see objects close to the eye in detail and does learn at an early age to see detail in objects.

The child with hyperopia will typically stand close in front of a television. One would have expected that the child would stand far away because the child is hyperopic, but because the brain has never learned to see detailed lines and object contours the child sees objects blurred. While children with myopia learn to see sharp lines because they can see perfectly well very close to their eyes, the brain of a child with hyperopia cannot see sharp lines, so they stand right in front of the television to at least see blurred images. This blurred vision may also cause a child to develop a squint because the two eyes do not detect sharp lines which the brain can use to map the separate images of the two eyes together to form a single image. Each eye functions independently. So a child with hyperopia from birth presents with decreased visual perception.

The parents of a child with hyperopia do not always realize that the child has a problem at an early age. A hyperopic child might have problems with catching a ball because of blurred vision and because of a decreased ability to see three-dimensional objects. The child will typically perform below average at school. As soon as a child starts identifying images, a parent might find that the child cannot see small objects or pictures.

Astigmatism

Astigmatism is an optical defect in which vision is blurred due to the inability of the optics of the eye to focus a point object into a sharp focused image on the retina. This may be due to an irregular or toric curvature of the cornea or lens. The two types of astigmatism are regular and irregular. Irregular astigmatism is often caused by a corneal scar or scattering in the crystalline lens, and cannot be corrected by standard spectacle lenses, but can be corrected by contact lenses. Regular astigmatism arising from either the cornea or crystalline lens can be corrected by a toric lens. A toric surface resembles a section of the surface of a Rugby ball or a doughnut where there are two regular radii, one smaller than the other one. This optical shape gives rise to regular astigmatism in the eye.[1]

The refractive error of the astigmatic eye stems from a difference in degree of curvature refraction of the two different meridians (i.e., the eye has different focal points in different planes.) For example, the image may be clearly focused on the retina in the horizontal (sagittal) plane, but not in the vertical (tangential) plane. Astigmatism causes difficulties in seeing fine detail, and in some cases vertical lines (e.g., walls) may appear to the patient to be tilted. The astigmatic optics of the human eye can often be corrected by spectacles, hard contact lenses or contact lenses that have a compensating optic, cylindrical lens (i.e. a lens that has different radii of curvature in different planes), or refractive surgery.

Treatment

Astigmatism may be corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery. The planning and analysis of astigmatism treatment in corneal, cataract, and refractive surgery have been outlined by the American National Standards Institute, and were originally described by Australian ophthalmologist Noel A. Alpins in his Alpins Method of astigmatism analysis. Various considerations involving ocular health, refractive status, and lifestyle, frequently determine whether one option may be better than another. In those with keratoconus, toric contact lenses often enable patients to achieve better visual acuities than eyeglasses. Once only available in a rigid, gas-permeable form, toric lenses are now available also as soft lenses. If the astigmatism is caused by a problem such as deformation of the eyeball due to a chalazion, treating the underlying cause will resolve the astigmatism. The first eyeglasses to correct astigmatism were made by Benjamin Franklin in 1784.[citation needed]

A further option is the Mini Asymmetric Radial Keratotomy (M.A.R.K.), a surgical technique developed by Italian ophthalmologist Marco Abbondanza in 1994 and improved in 2005. It consists of a series of microincisions, which are made with a diamond knife, designed to cause a controlled scarring of the cornea, which changes its thickness and shape. This procedure, if done properly, is able to cure the astigmatism and the first and second stages of the keratoconus, avoiding the need for a cornea transplant.

Presbyopia

Presbyopia is a condition where with age, the eye exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects. Presbyopia’s exact mechanisms are not known with certainty; the research evidence most strongly supports a loss of elasticity of the crystalline lens, although changes in the lens’s curvature from continual growth and loss of power of the ciliary muscles (the muscles that bend and straighten the lens) have also been postulated as its cause. Like gray hair and wrinkles, presbyopia is a symptom caused by the natural course of aging. The first signs of presbyopia – eyestrain, difficulty seeing in dim light, problems focusing on small objects and/or fine print – are usually first noticed between the ages of 40 and 50.

Treatment

In the visual system, images captured by the eye are translated into electric signals that are transmitted to the brain where they are interpreted. As such, in order to overcome presbyopia, two main components of the visual system can be addressed: 1) the optical system of the eye or 2) the visual processing of the brain.

1. Image capturing in the eye Solutions for presbyopia have advanced significantly in recent years, thanks to widened availability of optometry care as well as over-the-counter vision correction.

2. Image processing in the brain Scientific solutions for overcoming the symptoms of presbyopia were developed in recent years and tested successfully in multiple studies. These solutions are available thanks to significant progress in the understanding of the human brain plasticity and the field of perceptual learning.[9]



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