resource iconEye Conditions Factsheet


The image of two eyes. The left is affected by cataracts and the right is normal looking.

Cataracts affects more than half of those aged over 65. Most can be treated successfully with surgery. A cataract is a clouding of the lens. Vision becomes blurred .Cataracts can form at any age, but most often develops as people get older. Although we know that cataracts develops with age, there is still much to be discovered. The most effective treatment for cataracts is a small operation to remove the cloudy lens. When the cloudy lens has been surgically removed it is usually replaced.

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Diabetic Retinopathy

Two images representing normal vision on the right hand side and vision as seen with diabetic retinopathy on the left hand side

Diabetic retinopathy is the name given to the changes in the retina that occur over a period of time in people with diabetes. There are two types of diabetic reMaculopathy – this happens when the blood vessels in the retina start to leak. If the macula is affected, central vision gradually gets worse. It can become difficult to recognise people’s faces in the distance or to see detail such as small print. The amount of central vision that is lost varies from person to person. However the vision which allows people to get around at home and outside (navigation vision) will be preserved. It is very rare for someone with maculopathy to Proliferative diabetic retinopathy – this happens when diabetes causes the blood vessels in the retina to become blocked. If this happens then new blood vessels form in the eye.

This is nature’s way of trying to repair the damage so that the retina has a new blood supply. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are weak and they are also in the wrong place – growing on the surface of the retina and into the vitreous jelly. As a result these blood vessels can bleed very easily and cause scar tissue to form in the eye. The scarring pulls and distorts the retina. When the retina is pulled out of position this is called retinal detachment. With most sight-threatening diabetic problems can be prevented by laser treatment if it is given early enough. The laser, a beam of high intensity light, can be focused with extreme precision. So the blood vessels that are leaking fluid into the retina can be sealed. If new blood vessels are growing, more extensive laser treatment is required.

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There are two images of a tree as seen from a distance. The left image of the tree is seen through normal vision and the right is distorted representing glaucoma

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve is damaged at the point where it leaves the eye. The eye needs a certain amount of pressure to keep the eyeball in shape so that it can work properly. In some people, the damage is caused by raised eye pressure. Others may have an eye pressure If the optic nerve comes under too much pressure then it can be damaged. How much damage there is will depend on how much pressure there is and how long it has lasted, and whether there is a poor blood supply or other weakness of the optic nerve.

The early loss in the field of vision is usually in the shape of an arc a little above and/or below the centre when looking straight ahead. This blank area, if the glaucoma is untreated, spreads both outwards and inwards. The centre of the field is the last affected so that eventually it becomes like looking through a keyhole.

In the UK some forms of glaucoma affect about 2 in every 100 people over the age of 40. There are several factors that increase the risk including age, race and family, The main treatment for chronic glaucoma aims to reduce the pressure in your eye, to open up the drainage channels. Some treatments also aim to improve the blood, In acute glaucoma the pressure in the eye rises rapidly. Sometimes people have a series of mild attacks, often in the evening. Vision may seem ‘misty’ with coloured rings seen around white lights. Immediate hospital treatment is necessary so that the pain and the pressure in the eye can be relieved.

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Macular Degeneration

Two images of trees beside a lake. The image on the left show how someone wth normal vision sees the trees and the image on the right shows how someone with macular disease see it. The central field of vision is blurred.

Macular degeneration is a term applied to any number of hereditary conditions in which there is a degeneration of the retinal receptors in the region of the macular. The effects of the condition differ according to the particular type of Macular Dystrophy. In Cone Dystrophy, for example, an individual might experience sensitivity to light. Many of the Macular Dystrophies have a characteristic appearance when seen by an Ophthalmologist, however, sometimes further electrophysiological tests are required.

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Retinitis Pigmentosis

Two images depicting the symptoms of Retinitis Pigmentosis. The image shows two children smiling happily. The Image on the left is seen through normal vision and the image on the image on the right is seen through someone suffering from the condition. The distorted image shows a mostly blacked out image with only a small portion of the centre visible

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is the name given to a group of hereditary eye disorders. These disorders affect the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye, in which the first stages of seeing take place.

The most common first symptom is difficulty in seeing in poor light, for example outdoors at dusk, or in a dimly lit room. A secondary symptom is reduction of the visual field, in which sight is lost from the sides, or from above and below. This is often referred to as tunnel vision and means that the rod cells, and some ofIn some RP-related conditions central vision is lost first. The first signs of this are difficulty in reading print or carrying out detailed work. All RP conditions are progressive, but the speed at which deterioration takes place varies from one person to another.

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