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Warning signs of unhealthy eyes and symptoms of eye problems

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Routine eye exams are the very best way to avoid vision problems as you grow older. If you haven't had an eye exam in more than a year, schedule a visit with an eye doctor near you.

Being aware of certain warning signs also can help you take appropriate steps to maintain your eyesight, particularly if vision symptoms occur suddenly.

In many cases, such as with a detached retina or rapid onset of glaucoma, prompt intervention is essential to avoid or minimize permanent vision loss.

While many eye problems can occur at any age, they often occur more frequently among older individuals. Unfortunately, aging increases your risk for certain types of sight-threatening eye conditions that can lead to blindness.

10 signs and symptoms of eye problems

The following signs and symptoms can indicate a medical emergency or an urgent condition that could cause significant vision loss over time.

Consult your eye doctor as soon as possible if you experience:

1. A sudden appearance of spots and floaters in your field of vision. 

Usually, eye floaters are due to a benign, age-related condition called vitreous detachment. This occurs when the eye's gel-like interior liquefies and separates from the retina, the light-sensitive inner lining of the back of the eye.But a sudden onset of spots and floaters also can be caused by a serious, sight-threatening tear or detachment of the retina. If you suddenly see a shower of spots and floaters, contact an eye doctor (optometrist or ophthalmologist) immediately.

2. A sensation that a dark curtain is blocking part of your field of view. 

This could be caused by a retinal detachment, which occurs when the retina separates from the underlying layer of nourishing blood vessels (choroid). If the retina is not reattached within hours, the vision loss may be permanent.

3. Sudden eye pain, redness, nausea and vomiting. 

These are symptoms of a sudden (acute) attack of narrow-angle glaucoma, which can permanently damage the eye's optic nerve. Immediate treatment is required to prevent permanent vision loss.

Blurry vision, ghost images and nighttime halos around lights all can be warning signs of eye problems.

4. Double vision, double images or "ghost" images. 

Double vision can be caused by many eye conditions. It also can signal an underlying health emergency such as a stroke. If you have a sudden onset of double vision, see your eye doctor or family physician immediately.

5. Sudden blurry vision in one eye. 

If you are over 60, your chance of developing a macular hole in the part of the retina where fine focusing occurs increases. Because macular holes can worsen and cause permanent loss of vision, it's important to visit your eye care practitioner for a diagnosis and prompt treatment (if necessary).

6. A narrowing of your field of view. 

A simulation of peripheral vision loss, also known as tunnel vision.

A reduction of your ability to see objects off to the sides could be a sign of glaucoma. Without intervention, peripheral vision loss could continue to worsen, leading to tunnel vision or even blindness.

7. A gradual loss of central vision.

A blurry or distorted spot in the center of your field of view can be symptoms of early age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of blindness among people over age 60.

In the past, there was no effective treatment for macular degeneration. But today, new medical treatments sometimes can halt or limit AMD-related vision loss.

8. Cloudy and blurred eyesight; glare. 

Cloudy or blurry vision and glare — especially at night — often are symptoms of cataracts. Cataracts tend to worsen gradually over time and are not a medical emergency. Nevertheless, as your eye's natural lens continues to lose clarity with aging, your vision will continue to deteriorate unless you have cataract surgery.

9. Blind spots. 

Scattered blind spots in your field of view could be signs of diabetic retinopathy. If you have been told that you have diabetes or are at risk for the disease, have a comprehensive eye exam at least annually to monitor your vision and eye health.

10. Eye discomfort or irritated eyes.

Eye discomfort and irritation of the surface of your eyes could be symptoms of dry eye syndrome. Dry eyes are common after age 60. Consult your eye doctor for advice about treatment options to make your eyes more comfortable.

Preventing age-related eye problems

The best way to continue to see clearly and comfortably as you age is to have a routine annual eye exam.

During these exams, your eye doctor will be able to detect potential problems — in many cases, even before you notice symptoms — and recommend remedies to keep your eyes healthy, comfortable and seeing well.

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