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“Eye conditions” and “eye diseases” are frequently used terms that lead to some confusion among patients. What’s the difference? What are some common examples of each to watch out for?

According to the American Medical Association, a “condition” refers to a medical state that requires monitoring and possibly treatment, but the patient’s overall health is not affected. A “disease” usually has a negative effect on the patient’s health. Diseases almost always require prompt treatment.

Below are a few of the most common types of eye conditions and diseases, including their causes, common symptoms and likely treatments.

Refractive Errors

Refractive errors are some of the most common eye conditions and include myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (irregularly-shaped cornea) and presbyopia (age-related difficulty focusing, often occurs when reading). These errors are caused by the eyes’ inability to properly bend (or refract) light.

Common symptom: All refractive errors caused blurred vision.

Treatment: Refractive errors are normally corrected with eyeglasses, contact lenses or surgery. However, the type and severity of the error affects the treatment options best suited to address the issue.

Cataracts

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye that prevents light from reaching the retina. Cataracts often form slowly and have variety of causes. While they are common, their ongoing presence in a patient’s eye is usually due to lack of professional care.
Common symptom: Patients experience glare when viewing lights at night.

Treatment: Cataracts are often successfully removed surgically.

Glaucoma

The term refers to a group of eye diseases that cause the optic nerve to deteriorate, usually because the normal drainage of fluid inside the eye slows, and an unhealthy level of pressure builds up inside the eye and damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma can be divided into two categories.

  • Open-angle glaucoma is a slowly developing condition that often progresses painlessly for extended periods of time. Often, a patient only notices the problem after her vision is significantly obstructed, which can take years.
  • Closed-angle glaucoma comes on very rapidly and is often painful. It can be caused by an injury, infection or other disorder. It can progress quickly, but its startling nature normally results in the patient rapidly seeking professional care.

Common symptom: Narrowing of the field of vision so that peripheral vision disappears.

Treatment: Glaucoma can be treated with prescription eyedrops or surgery.

Retinal Disorders

The retina is the lining of the back of the eye. When functioning appropriately, its cells transfer images to the brain. A variety of diseases can affect the retina.

Age-related macular degeneration is a disorder that affects the macula, the central part of the retina, and therefore manifests in damage to central vision. It can occur in both wet and dry types.
Wet AMD results when blood vessels grow abnormally under the macula, leading to bleeding or leaking.
Dry AMD results when the macula progressively thins, leading to vision blurring. This is the more common type of AMD.

Common symptom: Drusen — tiny yellow or white spots under the retina.

Treatment: Medication and laser therapy are often used to treat macular degeneration.

Diabetic retinopathy
This condition is the leading cause of blindness in adults in the United States. The blood vessels of the retina become blocked and deteriorate. Unlike many other eye issues, diabetic retinopathy often affects both eyes simultaneously.

Common symptom: Diabetic retinopathy often presents no initial symptoms.

Treatment: Disease management includes steps to control blood sugar, blood pressure and lipid levels.

Retinal detachment
Retinal detachment occurs when the retina pulls away from the supportive layers of tissue in the wall of the eye. A tear in the retina that allows fluid to escape and separate the retinal tissue can cause the retinal detachment.

Common symptom: A sudden dark or light spot in the field of vision.

Treatment: Retinal detachment is treated with surgery.

As with many other health issues, early diagnosis is always helpful when dealing with eye conditions and eye diseases. In some cases, it can determine whether successful treatment is possible. If you notice changes in your eye health, or the eye health of a family member, visit your ophthalmologist or optometrist as soon as possible to describe the changes, investigate the cause and determine the best course of action.

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