Our eyes are remarkable, automatically carrying out thousands of complex functions every day and even telling us when something is wrong. Symptoms from dry eyes to eye strain are signs that our eyes could be struggling while sudden pain, flashing lights or loss of vision may be a medical emergency. However, what do these symptoms mean and when should we seek help?
Professor Bernie Chang, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Optegra and President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, offers his advice on what to do when we experience changes in our eyes.
Professor Chang states: “Due to the pandemic, it was easy for eye health checks to slip down the agenda. In fact Optegra research[i] shows that a fifth (20 per cent) of adults have not had an eye test for three to five years. But we are calling on everyone to get back on track and book their local eye health check. It truly is the single most important thing you can do to protect this precious sense, so surely an hour every two years is a worthwhile investment to keep your eyes healthy?”
He continues: “Most of the symptoms we notice in our eyes will be straightforward and easy to treat, but some may be ‘red flags’ indicating a more serious underlying condition that needs urgent medical attention and certainly should not be ignored.
“You should go to your local optician as soon as possible if you experience symptoms such as flashing lights, floaters, blurring of central vision, haloes and persistent pain, redness or itching.
“Other symptoms such as dry eyes or dark circles could be due to lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep or eye strain. You should still see a professional, especially if your eyes are causing you problems or you have concerns, but they are not a medical emergency.”
More worryingly, there are some conditions such as AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and glaucoma that may not have any symptoms at all in the first stages, yet that is the optimum time to start treatment. This is why a regular eye check, every two years, is essential.
This simple test not only ensures you can see as well as possible – with a prescription for glasses or contacts if needed – but also, vitally, checks on the health of your eyes to ensure sight-threatening conditions can be successfully treated at an early stage.
Optegra patient Nicky Shipp, 63, luckily knew the importance of reacting quickly to changes in her vision. She experienced flashing lights and floaters after a bump on the head whilst windsurfing in Greece and her quick actions meant that the holes in her retina, which were causing the symptoms, were treated quickly, protecting her precious sight.
“As soon as I returned home from Greece, I knew that something wasn’t right and went to my optician. After a scan of the back of my eye, and several hospital visits, it was confirmed that I had two holes in my retina. Thankfully the holes were repaired with laser surgery, which saved my sight,” said Nicky.
“I’m glad that I asked the questions and pushed to be seen – everyone should be aware of the ‘red flags’ so they can do the same and not wait, thinking the symptoms will go away.”
Eye symptoms to look out for.
If you are experiencing problems with your eyes, Optegra’s simple guide to common eye conditions below may help you to understand what is wrong. However, you should always seek advice from your optician if you have any concerns.
- Colours hard to distinguish – can be early sign of AMD
- Dry eyes – may be dry eye disease, a common condition which can be treated with eye drops to make day-to-day life more comfortable
- Rainbow circles or haloes around lights – can be early sign of a type of glaucoma
- Straight lines appear wavy – can be early sign of AMD
- Irritable, sore eyes and itchy eyelids – could be blepharitis, a common inflammation of the eyelids
- Eyelid lumps – if persistent, changing or growing could be an indication of a tumour, seek referral from your GP or optician.
- Sudden drooping of the eyelid / double vision – may be a sign of neurological disease and needs urgent referral.
- Severe pain within the eye, for example, enough to cause vomiting/nausea – may indicate high eye pressure and angle-closure glaucoma
- Dark circles – can be hereditary but also a sign that you’re overly tired. Try to catch up on some sleep
- Frequent mild headaches – may be a sign of eye strain or sensitivity to light which can be managed with spectacles and sunglasses
- Severe and persistent headaches – could be a symptom of an issue within the brain and needs investigation.
- Flashing lights and floaters – can be a sign of a retinal tear, which is a medical emergency and needs urgent treatment. Go to A&E if optician not available
Optegra’s top tips for looking after your eyes:
- Have your eyes checked regularly every two years by a healthcare professional. A lot of issues that can affect vision and eye health happen very slowly, so spotting them early can prevent long-term adverse effects on vision
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of coloured vegetables and oily fish
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays – if you would wear sun cream then wear sunglasses as this protects your eye and also the eyelids.
- Take regular breaks from screen usage especially mobile phones and computers
Optegra Eye Health Care and is a specialist provider of ophthalmic services. Established in 2007, it has completed over one million eye procedures from its 34 eye hospitals and clinics across the UK, Czech Republic and Poland.
Optegra brings together leading-edge research, medical expertise and state-of-the-art surgical equipment. It performs more than 100,000 treatments annually, both private and publicly funded. Its top ophthalmic surgeons are renowned for their areas of expertise, offering excellent clinical outcomes and great patient service.
Tel: 0800 077 3272
[i] Optegra research for Vision of Britain report, 2021, with 2,008 nationally representative UK adults