Common Eye Diseases

There are a number of common eye diseases that can be detected and managed through routine eye exams:

  • Macular Degeneration
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Dry Eye
  • Eyelid and Ocular Surface Disease

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) affects an estimated one million Canadians and is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 50. There are different kinds of macular degeneration, but age-related macular degeneration is the most common.

AMD involves the deterioration of the macula, which is a small area in the retina at the back of the eye. When the macula becomes damaged, problems with central vision (such as blurriness, dark areas or distortion) start to become noticeable. These resulting vision problems make activities such as reading and driving, or even seeing faces, difficult or impossible.

The cause of AMD is unknown, but there are significant risk factors such as smoking, a family history of AMD, female gender, age, and lighter skin and eye colour. AMD is far more common in people over the age of 50, although it can affect people at a younger age.

Sometimes only one eye loses vision while the other eye continues to see fairly well for a long period of time. The “good eye” takes over to compensate for vision loss in the other eye and, as a result, you may not notice the problem until both eyes are affected. This is why it is important to go to your eye doctor for regular checkups.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision. Most cataracts are related to aging. The lens lies behind the iris and the pupil. It works much like a camera lens. It focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye, where an image is recorded. The lens also adjusts the eye’s focus, letting us see things clearly both up close and far away. The lens is made of mostly water and protein. The protein is arranged in a precise way that keeps the lens clear and lets light pass through it. But as we age, some of the protein may clump together and start to cloud a small area of the lens. This is a cataract. Over time, the cataract may grow larger and cloud more of the lens, making it harder to see.

Normal vision

The same scene as viewed by a person with cataract

Dry eye is an eye condition in which a person doesn't have enough quality tears to lubricate and nourish the eye. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. Dry eye is a common and often chronic problem, particularly in older adults. Dry eye occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly, or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly.

In addition, inflammation of the surface of the eye may occur along with dry eye. If left untreated, this condition can lead to pain, ulcers, or scars on the cornea, and some loss of vision. However, permanent loss of vision from dry eye is uncommon.

Dry eye can make it more difficult to perform some activities, such as using a computer or reading for an extended period of time, and it can decrease tolerance for dry environments, such as the air inside an airplane.

Other names for dry eye include dry eye syndrome, keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS), dysfunctional tear syndrome, lacrimal keratoconjunctivitis, evaporative tear deficiency, aqueous tear deficiency, and LASIK-induced neurotrophic epitheliopathy (LNE).

Ocular surface and lid diseases are disorders of the surface of the cornea (the transparent layer that forms the front of the eye) and the eyelids and eyelashes. These diseases include dry eye syndrome, meibomian gland dysfunction, blepharitis, rosacea, allergies, and immunological conditions such as Sjogren’s Syndrome.

Ocular surface and lid diseases can affect eyesight and quality of life. Symptoms may include blurry vision, discomfort or pain, redness, itching, burning and in severe cases, blindness due to corneal scarring. Unfortunately, cases often go undiagnosed and undertreated. Regular eye exams with your optometrist can help ensure effective diagnosis, care, and management of ocular surface and lid disorders.

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