Learn Particulars About Eyes and Ears to Protect Sight and Hearing
by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
We’ll begin our look into eye and ear health by discussing five of the most common eye problems afflicting people.
Conjunctivitis is a bacterial or viral infection of the eye. Conjunctivitis is caused by contact with contaminated objects, such as dirty hands or blowing dirt that settles in the eye. Antibiotic drops are usually quite effective. Doctors warn anyone suffering from the problem to wash his/her hands frequently to prevent infecting others or re-infecting oneself. Good hygiene is especially important when handling children, who may be particularly susceptible to contracting or spreading the disease.
Secondly, hemorrhage of the eye is a frequently seen medical issue. Basically, the hemorrhage is a bruise of the eyeball, which despite its frightening appearance, will slowly heal on its own, just like any other bruise. With eye hemorrhages, the eye becomes extremely red and often scares patients badly, but outcomes are usually quite good with time.
Thirdly, scratches of the eye and foreign bodies in the eye are common reasons for visiting the ophthalmologist. Scratches are often caused by babies’ fingernails or by protruding sticks or limbs that catch the eye as a person bends down to garden or trim hedges or trees. Foreign bodies often lodge in the eye when people are trimming trees or doing yard work. In the case of foreign bodies in the eye, the object can be removed, and then an eye patch is worn to discourage blinking and allow the eye to calm down and heal. Antibiotic drops can be used to fight signs of infection if needed. Treatment for scratches is similar, but with no foreign object removal.
Next, a general decrease in vision is a common reason for an ophthalmology office call. Sometimes, the situation is a simple case of needing corrective lenses for near or farsightedness or presbyopia, but other times, the patient may be suffering from cataracts, which is the progressive clouding of the eye’s lens. Surgery is required to remove the cataract. These procedures are generally quite successful, and recovery time is short. Patients suffering from cataracts will often notice a milky white or clouded appearance to everything they view. Doctors urge anyone with these, or other, disturbing symptoms to visit an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. The sooner cataracts (or other eye problems) are treated, the better the outcome for the patient.
Finally, glaucoma, a condition causing high pressure in the eye is a common problem. The high pressure can cause damage to the optic nerve, resulting in loss of vision. In normal circumstances, fluid goes in and out of the eye at all times, but with glaucoma, there can be either too much fluid production or too little exiting of the fluid from the eye, resulting in the damaging high pressure. Fortunately, glaucoma, which usually begins in the late forties, can be pretty successfully treated with prescription drops. Again, doctors urge regular check-ups with an ophthalmologist to screen for glaucoma, which is most often symptom-less until the condition is more advanced, at which time, vision damage may have occurred already.
Among the less common, but still potentially serious, threats to good vision are: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, sun damage to the eye, chemical burns, and fungus infections. We’ll address each issue in turn.
Macular degeneration is the breakdown of the macula, which is the central part of the back of the retina. The breakdown is caused by poor circulation to the macula, resulting in tissue damage. The macula is responsible for both color vision and clarity of sight. The macula is involved in our central vision, not peripheral vision. Macular degeneration is now treatable. Years ago, it was a virtual sentence to partial vision loss, leaving victims with peripheral vision but reduced or no central vision. Now, macular degeneration is treatable with aspirin therapy, which improves circulation to the macula, thereby reducing degeneration. Also, a particular vitamin, which can be ordered by an ophthalmologist, is very effective in treating macular degeneration. These two treatments can save vision.
Some particular types of macular degeneration can be treated with injections directly into the eyeball, but these cases must be evaluated and handled by specialists.
Diabetic retinopathy is a condition of the eye seen in diabetic patients, especially those with poor blood sugar control. Diabetic retinopathy is caused by an overgrowth of small blood vessels in the retina. Eventually, as the diabetes and retinopathy develop, aneurysms occur in the back of the eye, which cause hemorrhages in the vitreous fluid and a resulting decrease in vision. Laser treatments are effective in treating the condition to help stop progression of the disease, but doctors warn that the best solution is to keep blood sugar under control and see an ophthalmologist regularly to keep a check on visual problems, which are more common in diabetics.
The sun can cause a variety of eye related damage. As we’ve all been warned since childhood, looking directly at the sun can burn the macula and cause vision loss. Still, doctors warn, people, often adults, will inadvertently cause vision problems by trying to look directly at a solar eclipse. Workers involved in jobs that require welding can also sustain burns to the eye similar to sun related damage. Recent medical information also points to sun exposure as a promoting factor in the formation of cataracts. Doctors urge everyone to wear good quality sunglasses that filter out UVA and UVB rays as often as practical to protect sensitive areas of the eye, and help prevent cataracts.
Sun exposure to the eye area is also involved in the formation of some skin cancers of the eyelid.
Chemical burns also can pose a serious threat to the eye. Most people are familiar with the damaging effects of acid burns, but are often unaware of how bad base burns can be to the eye. Eye doctors urge anyone sustaining a chemical burn, especially from a base, such as bleach, to get in the shower or use a garden hose to flush the eye(s) for several minutes before seeking medical assistance. Removing the chemical as quickly as possible is a victim’s best bet for preserving his/her vision.
Fungus infections of the eye are less common than bacterial or viral ones, but they can be serious and always take a long time to treat, even in light cases. There are drops to kill fungus in the eye, but treatment requires persistence and must be monitored closely by the doctor.
We’ll additionally touch on some of the most common eyesight deficiencies that are not disease or accident related, namely, nearsightedness, farsightedness, presbyopia, and astigmatism.
Lasik treatment is generally considered a very effective remedy for near-sightedness with few, if any, side effects. The unfortunate side effect of slowly developing farsightedness following the older radial keratotomy (RK) does not apply to Lasik treatments for nearsightedness. Lasik treatment can be used successfully for farsightedness as well.
Presbyopia can now be addressed with contact lenses or with “mono-vision” treatment, where one eye is corrected for near vision and one for distant vision. The brain figures out how to compensate for the seemingly strange effect, and normal vision results.
Astigmatism is the abnormal curve of the eyeball. The normal eyeball is shaped like a basketball; the eyeball with astigmatism is shaped more like a football. The problem can be corrected with lenses that address the power and direction of the curve.
Cases of drooping eyelids, cancer of the lids, or benign, but bothersome, lumps and bumps around the eye or on the lids are fairly commonplace, as are tearing problems and broken bones around the eye. All of these problems can be successfully addressed, and much can be done to treat most eye problems, but the patient must be proactive.
What is an eye doctor’s best advice for taking care of your eyes? Have your eyes examined, doctors urge. Most doctors advise eye exams yearly, especially for anyone 40 or older, when problems are more likely to begin, and no matter what your age or how recently you’ve visited an eye doctor, if you’re experiencing any symptoms, then see a doctor right away. The earlier a problem is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome for the patient.
Our sense of hearing is one of the harder aspects of health to track and to take precautions for on a daily basis – simply because hearing loss is usually so very gradual as to be unnoticeable, and therefore, pushed aside in our overly busy lives. Hearing, like sight, is precious, and certainly warrants our time, attention, and a few basic cautions. Below is a bulleted list of “ear health” basics, first published on this blog last year, but if you missed it then, here is another chance to brush up on hearing loss prevention.
• Quite possibly one of the worst offenders contributing to hearing loss is the exposure to loud noises. Hearing loss most commonly comes on slowly, gradually, and often without notice to the affected person until significant damage and hearing loss has already transpired. Doctors warn to always use ear protection when participating in noisy activities, like home improvement projects, factory work, or loud entertainment experiences like attending rock music concerts, movie theatres, or car races.
• Another group of slow, creeping hearing thieves are low grade, chronic infections of the ear. Bacterial infections of the middle ear can reduce hearing in children and adults alike by damaging the eardrum and surrounding tissues.
Fungus infections, which cause gradual sloughing of the skin of the ear canal, can, over time, reduce the number of tiny hairs in the ear that aid hearing. Fewer tiny hairs in the ear result in reduced hearing. Even persistent allergic reactions that result in swelling on or near the ear drum or result in sloughing of skin in the ear canal can eventually cause hearing loss. Always promptly address any lingering infection or allergy symptoms of the ear with a doctor – before hearing loss sets in.
• Research reported from University of Florida scientists says that their animal study (with mice) shows that sedentary animals lost 60% of their hearing over time, while mice that exercised lost only 40% of hearing capacity. Although this is only one experiment, study author Shinishi Someya, PhD., makes a good point by noting that exercise boosts blood flow to the inner ear. Improved circulation helps protect against the loss of capillaries and sound receptor cells, which can lessen hearing. Now we have yet another reason to get moving – preserving our hearing as we age!
As we get moving in the beautiful outdoors of spring, let’s be mindful of how we can protect our precious sight and hearing and be thankful for all they bring to our lives.