Specific Health Topics
Common Eye Problems
The eye is like a fluid filled ball, containing:
- Conjunctiva and sclera. The outer white part of the eyeball.
- Cornea. The clear front opening which lets the light in.
- Iris. The colored ring that determines the color of our eyes and how much light gets in.
- The lens inside the eye. Located just behind the cornea and iris, the lens allows us to focus. A cataract is when the lens gets cloudy.
- Retina. The nerve layer in the back of the eyeball which captures the images we see and sends them to the brain via the optic nerve.
- Macula. A special area of the retina used for reading and fine detail.
- Vitreous humor. Clear, gelatinous substance filling the central cavity of the eye. This is like the eyes’ circulatory system to bring in nutrients and wash out toxins.
Often called "pink eye" or "red eye," conjunctivitis is a painful and/or itchy redness of the whites of one’s eyes. It is most commonly due to an allergic reaction or an infection (usually bacterial, but sometimes viral). This is different from bleeding into the white part of one eye, called a "subconjunctival hemorrhage," which leaves part of 1 eye bright red, but causes no discomfort or vision change. Though it looks nasty, this goes away on its own and is not dangerous. It is more common in diabetes and high blood pressure (so check for these if it happens), but most often happens in healthy people.
Conjunctivitis can be caused by:
- Allergies. Itching is the dominant symptom. It is more likely to affect both eyes, and the discharge/watering from the eyes
is usually clear. It may hit suddenly, or be mild and ongoing.
- Viral. Though there may be some itchiness, the pain, mild redness (more pink) and watering are more prominent. It may start in 1 eye, but easily can spread to the other (so be careful not to touch the unaffected eye). The discharge is usually clear and watery. It may take 3 weeks to resolve and may occur along with a respiratory infection or cold.
- Bacterial. This is associated with a puss-like yellow-green mucus discharge along with pain.
- Toxic. From an acute chemical exposure (usually obvious and should be immediately treated).
- Irritation. Falling asleep with your contact lenses in or having inadequate tears to support the use of contact lenses.
Though the viral and allergic conjunctivitis tend to be benign and resolve on their own, it is best to see an eye doctor to rule out bacterial conjunctivitis or more dangerous viral infections of the cornea. Seeing an eye doctor is especially important if you have yellow discharge or severe pain or light sensitivity in the eye, or the pupil (black part of the eye) is irregularly shaped instead of round.
The lens of the eye, which is what allows us to focus, is filled with a clear protein containing liquid. If the proteins in the liquid start to denature, they become cloudy. This can cause vision to get blurred.
Cataracts can be small and present at birth, occur (rarely) after eye injuries, and most often occur as people age, being hastened sometimes by diabetes or high blood pressure. The radiation/ultraviolet light increase seen at high altitudes can also increase risk.
Cataracts are not dangerous, but can impair vision.
Sometimes we get little bits of debris floating around in the liquid (called the "vitreous humor") that fills our eyes. This can include blood cells (round) or fungal filaments (which look like a thick thread with small lines along it). Oddly, the lens in our eye then acts like a microscope, allowing us to see them floating around in our eyes.
These are very common, and when they have come on gradually (over months to years) and there are just a few of them, they are normal and not dangerous. When there is a new sudden shower of them in one eye, this can represent a medical emergency (called a "retinal tear") which should be seen immediately. A simple laser technique can fix the tear if done early, where vision may not be recovered if the tear is allowed to progress.
Vision Loss in One Eye
Sudden loss of vision in one eye should be treated as a medical emergency, and the person should immediately be taken to the emergency room. This symptom can be a warning sign for a stroke, just like loss of function in an arm or leg on 1 side or sudden difficulty with speech can be a warning sign for a coming stroke. Caught early, the entire stroke may be prevented, where waiting could leave the person paralyzed.
Other possibilities include multiple sclerosis, retinal tears, a blood clot in the heart, and other conditions. These are medical emergencies that warrant a trip to the emergency room NOW until the underlying cause is determined.
The macula is in the central part of the retina that is used for more detailed vision, so it tends to affect the center of our visual field. As it has the largest concentration of cells, it also needs more oxygen then the rest of the retina. "Age-Related Macular Degeneration" (ARMD) is a degenerative condition of the macula. It is the most common cause of vision loss in the United States in those 50 or older, and increases with age. ARMD is caused by hardening of the arteries that nourish the retina. Fortunately, macular egeneration does not cause total blindness since it does not affect the peripheral vision.
Two Types of ARMD:
1. Wet ARMD
Around 10% of cases are called "wet ARMD," as new, but fragile, blood vessels try to regrow in to support the macula. These fragile new vessels sometimes leak (hence the name "wet") causing rapid vision loss in the center of 1 eye.
2. Dry ARMD
The other 90% of cases are called "dry ARMD," and these have a very gradual progression.
Glaucoma is the presence of increased pressure in the eyeball. The fluid that makes up the inside of the eye (called the vitreous humor) circulates into and out of the eye. When the flow out of the eye is slowed, pressure inside the eye rises. Holistic physicians suspect the backup of fluid in the eye may be caused by lack of integrity of the collagen in the eye tissues.
Untreated glaucoma can put pressure on and damage the optic nerve, causing visual field loss which can progress to blindness. One person may develop nerve damage at a relatively low pressure, while another person may have high eye pressure for years and yet never develop damage.
Chronic glaucoma has been nicknamed the "sneak thief of sight" because the loss of visual field often occurs gradually over a long time with no other symptoms, and may only be recognized when it is already quite advanced.
When acute glaucoma occurs, however, one often has severe throbbing pain in one eye and blurred vision, the pupil not getting smaller when you shine a light on it, and sometimes nausea and even vomiting. This uncommon form of glaucoma is a medical emergency, and must be treated surgically immediately preferably within 12 hours) to prevent blindness — so get to the eye doctor or emergency room immediately if this occurs.
Paradoxically, while synthetic adrenal steroids like prednisone (especially in high dose) can cause glaucoma, natural adrenal support may help lower the eye pressure.
Eye pressure is easily checked at your local eye specialist (including opticians) by simply blowing a puff of air on the eye, and should be checked each 2 years during regular eye exams.