Conditions an Optician Deals With

An optician in the UK is actually an optometrist, meaning he or she is qualified to assess your eyes and prescribe any necessary visual aids like corrective lenses. They are not to be confused with a dispensing optician, whose role is to prepare and provide those lenses. An optician is able to detect and explain most common visual problems, and then advise you on your treatment options.

What does an optician look for and how?

An optician basically looks for any abnormalities in your vision, which means any difficulty you may have seeing. These can encompass a whole range of different issues, some of which might require a referral to a specialist eye doctor called an ophthalmologist. Generally speaking however, most people suffer from a few conditions which may affect them to different degrees, these are outlined below in the relevant section below.

An optician conducts an examination of your eye to look for any apparent defects in your outer or inner eye. He or she will then move on to assess your vision by means of an eye chart. This will be made up of letters that gradually get smaller and smaller. The purpose of this test is to establish how well you can see small objects at a certain distance, and hence to determine whether or not you need lenses to adjust your vision.

Common visual problems that an optician will diagnose and address

  • Shortsightedness (myopia) – Describes a difficulty in focusing on objects closer to the eye. This condition results typically from an abnormal growth of the eyeball in which it is lengthened, or from an overly curved cornea (a transparent membrane at the front of the eye responsible in part for focusing an image). The eye is a complex structure, and is designed to bend light from the objects around us in such a way that they are focused on a structure called the retina. The retina is at the back of the eye and translates these rays of light into a signal that the brain interprets as the images you see, for example, this text you are reading right now! When structures like the eye ball or cornea are abnormally shaped, as in this instance, light is not focused on the retina as it should be, and the result is blurred vision.
  • Farsightedness (hyperopia) – Is a condition like myopia discussed above, but rather than objects that are close by being difficult to see, objects at a distance appear blurry. In the event of hyperopia, the cause is likely to be because the eye ball hasn’t grown enough and is short, or because the cornea does not refract (effectively change the angle of) light enough to focus it on the retina as it should normally do.
  • Presbyopia – Naturally occurs as you age, and is a gradual loss of focusing ability, specifically the ability to focus on nearby objects. It typically affects people aged 40 and over, and can be very slow in terms of onset, to the extent that you don’t notice any difficulties to begin with. Presbyopia is a consequence of natural aging and the resulting loss of elasticity in your eye’s lens. For normal vision your eye’s natural lens need to constantly change its shape, and as this ability is impaired through a loss of elasticity, presbyopia sets in.
  • Astigmatism – Less well known but still a very prevalent condition, astigmatism describes the loss of vision that occurs as a consequence of the cornea (thin layer at the front of the eye) or lens (structure in the eye that focuses light) not being spherical as they should be. The consequence is similar to other conditions described above, and light is not properly focused on the retina as it should be.

Other issues an optician might pick up on

While the above are the most commonly occurring eye conditions that an optician may find and treat by means of corrective lenses, there are other causes of visual impairment that may present themselves. These are often picked up at an opticians, and yet again are indicative of the importance of regular checkups.

Cataracts is a disease of the elderly that is effectively a clouding of the eye’s lens. A clouded lens can’t properly focus light, meaning that you suffer from reduced vision and a characteristic cloudiness that sufferers complain of. The condition is often described as presenting as a ‘film over the eye’ which can cause a fading of coloured vision, glare from strong sources of light, and sometimes double vision in the affected eye. These are all symptoms that your optician will be aware of, and in their event, you will be referred to a specialist eye doctor called an ophthalmologist.

Other examples include a condition brought on by diabetes in which the retina is damaged called retinopathy. Diabetics are advised to have their eyes checked regularly as this is more treatable in its early stages. The conjunctiva covers the white region of your eye and becomes inflamed during conjunctivitis, and can be picked up on during an eye test. This is a contagious eye condition, but unlike diabetic retinopathy and cataracts, can be dealt with by your GP, at least initially.

These are only some of the diverse conditions of the eye that may be presented to an optician, but take comfort in that the profession is well versed in dealing with these problems and that you will be referred to the appropriate specialist if necessary.

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