Look after your eyes

It's easy to take your eyesight for granted, but having a regular eye test is a good idea – not only to test whether you need glasses or a new prescription, but also to check the general health of your eyes.

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NHS Choices suggest that everyone has an eye test every two years, more frequently if you've had problems in the past or if advised by your doctor or optician. Although anyone can develop sight problems, those over the age of 60 have a higher risk of developing eye disease and should have tests more regularly.

Read on to discover more about common eye issues and health problems...

These are small shadowy spots that appear in a person's general field of vision. They appear to be floating in front of everything the person is looking at and move as the eye moves, then stop when the eye stops moving. They can also appear as larger cloud-like spots, narrow strands or tiny black dots.

Floaters occur when pieces of debris in the vitreous jelly of the eye cast shadows onto the retina. They are a common part of the ageing process and tend to affect the very short-sighted and those who have had cataract surgery, though can also appear after a trauma to the eye or can be caused by an inflammatory illness.

Although usually harmless, see your doctor if you notice floaters for the first time, if you notice a sudden increase in their number, your vision deteriorates or you get flashes of light in the affected eye. (This can be a sign of other eye conditions that may affect sight, such as retinal detachment when the retina becomes separated from the inner wall of the eye).

These are cloudy patches in the lens of the eye that can develop in one or both eyes. They cause vision to become blurred or misty and over time the cloudy patches can become bigger and more of them can develop.

Cataracts are the world's leading cause of impaired vision, affecting half of all people aged 65 and over. Surgery to remove the cataract is usually recommended, as this is the only way to restore vision.

The procure takes around 30-45 minutes and vision is improved almost immediately. Post surgery, most people will need to wear glasses for either near or distance vision. Once these have been fitted, about 95% of people will have normal vision.

Glaucoma actually describes a group of eye conditions that affect vision, usually in both eyes. Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness, but if treated early, further damage can be prevented.

Glaucoma occurs when the drainage tubes within the eye become slightly blocked, preventing eye fluid from draining properly and causing pressure to build up. This pressure can damage the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, and the nerve fibres from the retina.

The most common type of the disease is chronic open-angle glaucoma, which develops slowly over a period of time. As many as 480,000 people are affected with this type in England alone. It's estimated that 1 in 50 people above 40 years old and 1 in 10 people above 75 years old has chronic open-angle glaucoma in Europe. It may be more common among people of black-African or black-Caribbean origins.

Glaucoma can be treated with eye drops, laser treatment or surgery. Although damage cannot be reversed, treatment can help prevent any further deterioration.

What you can do
Apart from having regular eye tests, there are some things you can do to help look after your eyes and lower your risk of developing problems. One of the most important is to give up smoking. Smokers are at a greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration and cataracts – as are heavy drinkers.

Keeping fit, especially as you get older, can also help prevent eye problems. Studies show that staying active may reduce the risk of sight loss which can occur from high blood pressure, diabetes and narrowing or hardening of the arteries.

You can also protect your eyes by wearing dark sunglasses on bright days. Look for the 'CE' mark and the British Standard BS EN 1836:2005 as these show they have a safe level of ultraviolet protection. Remember, you should never look directly at the sun as this can cause irreversible damage and even lead to blindness.