Eye Conditions

Eyes for Life Canberra (EFLC) offers a qualified Outreach Officer, Community Engagement Officer and Occupational Therapist and who can provide a Future Development Program to assist people who are vision impaired or have eyesight problems blind to help regain lost functions, develop their abilities and social skills as well as promote and maintain independence in their everyday lives.

Below is an explanation of Eye conditions. If you would like a downloadable version and to see some images showing the effects of each eye condition check out our ‘Helpful Resources‘ page.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the clear lens in the eye and is one of the leading causes of vision impairment.  While cataracts most commonly occur in those who are older, they can develop in younger people as well.  Some are even born with a cataract.

What are the symptoms?

In its early stages a cataract may not cause vision problems. However, some common signs of advanced cataracts include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Glare sensitivity.
  • Distortion or double vision in the affected eye.
  • A feeling of looking through a veil or curtain.

Who is at risk?

A family history of the eye condition.Those most at risk include people who have:

  • An injury to the eye.
  • Exposed their eyes to sunlight without protection over a long period.
  • Smoked for a period of time.

Can it be treated?

When symptoms begin to appear, vision may be improved through the use of:

  • New glasses
  • Strong bifocals
  • Magnification
  • Appropriate lighting or other visual aids.

In more advanced cases, cataract surgery is very successful in restoring vision.
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What is Diabetic Retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when the tiny blood vessels inside the retina at the back of the eye are damaged.  This can seriously affect vision and in some cases may even cause blindness.

What are the symptoms?

Common symptoms include:

  • Blurred or distorted vision that makes it difficult to read standard print, watch television or see people’s faces.
  • Increased sensitivity to glare and difficulty seeing at night.

Who is at risk?

  • People who have diabetes are at risk especially if they have:
  • High blood-sugar levels or poorly managed diabetes.
  • High blood pressure, particularly if they also have kidney disease
  • A long history of the illness.

Can it be treated?

Laser and other surgical procedures can be conducted to treat diabetic retinopathy.  This slows progression of the disease and decreases the risk of vision loss.

  • People with diabetes should ensure they:
  • See an eyecare professional regularly.
  • Take prescribed medicines as instructed.
  • Control blood-sugar levels and follow a healthy diet.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition associated with pressure in the eye.  It is characterised by damage to the optic nerve that causes peripheral vision loss.

What are the symptoms?

Glaucoma often has no symptoms.  However, common signs include:

  • Severe pain and vision loss.
  • Blurred vision, or seeing coloured rings around lights.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Who is at risk?

Those most at risk include people who have:

  • A family history of the eye condition.
  • An injury to the eye.
  • Used steroids regularly over a long period of time.

Can it be treated?

Glaucoma can be treated with:

  • Laser work
  • Medication
  • Surgery

Early detection and treatment of this condition can prevent or delay vision loss.

To help avoid glaucoma, people should have their eyes regularly examined by an eye care professional.  Those in high-risk categories should have their eyes examined well before the age of 35.

What is Keratoconus?

Keratoconus is an eye condition that causes the clear front surface of the eye, known as the cornea, to thin and bulge forward.

The bulging cornea affects the way light hits the retina at the back of the eye, causing distorted vision.

What are the symptoms?

Keratoconus usually occurs during adolescence, or shortly after, and in most cases will stabilise by the age of 35.

Symptoms being slowly and can be hard to detect.  They include the following:

  • Distorted or blurred vision.
  • Glare or light sensitivity.

Who is at risk?

Some evidence suggests that Keratoconus is a genetic condition and can be passed to a child if both parents carry the recessive gene. However, the majority of cases show no definite pattern.

Can it be treated?

As Keratoconus is a genetic condition, it cannot be treated with drugs, although glasses and contact lenses can help.  As the condition progresses, eye care professionals may recommend rigid contact lenses to alleviate further changes to the shape of the cornea.  Corneal inserts, a relatively new treatment, may be advised.  In other cases, a corneal graft may be recommended.

What is age-related macular degeneration?

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision impairment in older Australians.

AMD occurs when central vision deteriorates, making reading, close work and recognising faces more difficult.

The most common forms of the condition are Dry and Wet AMD. Dry AMD results in a gradual loss of central vision and Wet AMD leads to sudden and significant changes in vision.

What are the symptoms?

Common signs associated with AMD include:

  • A gradual decline in the ability to see objects clearly
  • Distorted vision
  • Dark or empty spaces blocking the central field of vision
  • Dimming of colour vision

Who is at risk?

Those most at risk of developing AMD are people with a family history of the condition, people over the age of 75 and smokers.

Can it be treated?

Early detection can make it possible to treat some types of AMD. Treatment for Wet AMD includes laser therapy. Other medical procedures such as radiotherapy and cortisone injections are also being tested.

What is Nystagmus?

Nystagmus refers to rapid involuntary movements that may cause one or both eyes to move from side to side, up and down or around in circles.  The condition is caused by abnormal function in the areas of the brain that control eye movements.  Nystagmus may be either present at birth or develop later in life.

What are the symptoms?

Nystagmus leads to low vision and may even cause legal blindness.  Symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Reduction in depth perception.

Can it be treated?

Vision can also be improved through null point training, where an eye care professional works with the person to train their eyes in the direction where vision is the clearest.In rare cases eye muscle surgery can be performed which reduces the extent of eye movement.

The use of a magnifier and other low vision aids may be useful for people with Nystagmus.

What is Retinal Detachment?

When a person has a detached retina, it means the retina has separated from the back of the eye. Without treatment, retinal detachment may worsen until the retina is completely detached and unable to send information down the optic nerve to the brain. This results in blindness

Who is at risk?
Some people are more likely than others to experience retinal detachment. Risk factors include:

  • Family history of the condition
  • Short-sightedness
  • Prior eye surgery, such as cataract surgery
  • Eye injury
  • Advancing age
  • Prior retinal detachment in the other eye.

 What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of retinal detachment include:

  • Floaters
  • Blurry vision
  • Bright lights or sparks, particularly in the periphery of the visual field
  • Areas of darkness, shadow or shade in the visual field
  • Loss of vision.

Treatment options for retinal detachment
Treatment options to reattach the retina may include:

  • Pneumatic retinopexy – a small gas bubble is injected into the vitreous to press the retina against its underlying tissue. Laser surgery or cryopexy will also be needed to seal the tears. Pneumatic retinopexy is usually reserved for simple cases of retinal detachment.
  • Scleral buckle – a tiny buckle or belt presses against the front of the eye and pushes the retina against its underlying tissue. The excess fluid needs to be drained off and any tears sealed with laser surgery or cryopexy.
  • Vitrectomy – the vitreous is removed and a gas bubble injected. The bubble presses the retina against its underlying tissue and the body gradually absorbs the bubble. Vitrectomy is used in complicated cases of retinal detachment, or when there is a lot of blood clouding the vitreous humour. The procedure may be followed by a scleral buckle.

What is Retinitis Pigmentosa?

Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is a genetic eye condition that causes the light-sensitive retina, located at the back of the eye, to degenerate slowly and progressively

The condition can vary greatly.  While many people with RP retain limited vision through their lives others will lose their sight completely.

What are the symptoms?

Generally, symptoms develop between the ages of 10 and 30.  Some of the first signs may include the following:

  • Difficulty seeing at night (night-blindness) or in dimly lit areas.
  • A narrowing field of vision.
  • Light and glare sensitivity.

Who is at risk?

RP is a hereditary disease that occurs in people that have a family history of the condition.  It often affects males more than females.

Can it be treated?

There is currently no standard treatment or therapy for RP. However, scientists have isolated several genes responsible for the disease.  Once RP is discovered, patients and their families are encouraged to seek genetic counselling.