The health of your eyes probably isn’t something you give much thought to — until they feel irritated or itchy, or you develop vision problems. In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks with Ann Quan, MD, an ophthalmologist with the Scripps Clinic who specializes in glaucoma and cataract surgery.
Several factors can cause dry, itchy or irritated eyes. One of the most common is eyelid inflammation, known as a blepharitis, that affects the production of lubricating tears.
Unlike tears produced by crying, lubricating tears contain oil that keeps your eyes moist and comfortable. When the eyelids become inflamed, the oil glands along the eyelid can get clogged. As a result, not enough oil reaches the surface of the eye, and tears evaporate quickly. This causes extremely dry, itchy eyes. Your eyes may sting or burn, or you may feel like you have something in your eye.
If clogged eyelids are an issue, try placing a warm towel over your eyes and massaging your eyelids with it for a few minutes in the morning and at night. This can help open blocked oil glands and allow the oils to reach the surface of your eye.
Blepharitis is not the only cause of dry eyes. Autoimmune conditions and medications can affect oil production, as can aging. Screen time is another culprit.
“When you’re on the computer, on your phone, your eyes are wide open, not really blinking very much,” says Dr. Quan. “You may notice by the end of the day that your eyes feel extremely dry.”
Dr. Quan recommends taking breaks from the computer and phone to give your eyes a rest, and using preservative-free, over-the-counter artificial tears a few times daily if needed.
Vision loss is a normal part of aging. Cataracts are one of the most common causes of age-related vision loss.
At birth, the lens that covers your eye is clear and healthy. Over time, the lens can become cloudy and yellowish; this is called a cataract. Cataracts typically develop around age 60 and cause blurry or hazy vision, especially at night when your pupils dilate, and your eyes are more sensitive to glare.
Cataract surgery removes the cloudy lens and replaces it with a new, clear lens. The outpatient procedure takes about 10 to 20 minutes and is typically performed on one eye first, followed by the other eye a week or two later. As a bonus, the replacement lens may eliminate the need for eyeglasses or contact lenses: new premium multifocal lenses provide clear vision up close, far away and in between without glasses.
Another common cause of vision loss is glaucoma. “We all have a drainage system that helps to lower the pressure in the eye,” says Dr. Quan. “As you get a little bit older, the drainage system may not work as well so the fluid builds up, which affects the pressure on the optic nerve in the back of the eye.”
Glaucoma occurs when excess pressure damages the optic nerve, leading to loss of peripheral or side vision first and, if left untreated, total vision loss. Many people do not even notice peripheral loss at first, which is why annual eye exams that include peripheral vision tests and intraocular pressure measurements are so important.
When found early, glaucoma can be managed with pressure-reducing eyedrops, laser therapy, medications or surgery. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and the individual’s medical profile.
Dr. Quan recommends a comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist for anyone age 40 and older, even if there are no symptoms.
“After the initial comprehensive eye exam, your doctor will tell you how often you need to follow up,” she says. “Patients with a family history of eye conditions may need to be followed up yearly, while patients with no ocular symptoms may need to be followed every two to three years.”