Frequently Asked Qestions

What is an Optometrist?

Previously known as ophthalmic opticians, optometrists are trained professionals who examine eyes, test sight, give advice on visual problems, and prescribe and dispense spectacles or contact lenses. They also recommend other treatments or visual aids where appropriate. Optometrists are trained to recognise eye diseases, referring such cases as necessary, and can also use or supply various eye drugs.

Optometrists study at university for at least three years and participate in a full year of training and supervision, called the pre-registration year, before qualifying. Once qualified, they have the opportunity to develop their interests in specialist aspects of practice such as contact lenses, eye treatment, low vision, children’s vision and sports vision.

All optometrists practising in the UK must be registered with the General Optical Council, the profession’s regulatory body, and are listed in the Opticians Register. When choosing an optometrist, look out for the letters FCOptom or MCOptom after his or her name. It means that optometrist is a fellow or member of the College and adheres to high standards of clinical practice.

There are currently around 10,400 registered optometrists in the UK.

What is a Dispensing opticians?

Dispensing opticians advise on, fit and supply spectacle frames and lenses after taking account of each patient's lifestyle and vocational needs. Dispensing opticians are also able to fit contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training. They are registered with and regulated by the General Optical Council and their representative body is the Association of British Dispensing Opticians.

There are currently around 5,300 qualified dispensing opticians in the UK.

What is an Ophthalmologist?

Ophthalmologists specialise in eye disease, treatment and surgery. Medically qualified, they mainly work in eye hospitals and hospital eye departments. Ophthalmologists are registered and regulated by the General Medical Council and their representative body is the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

There are currently around 1,400 ophthalmologists (listed on the specialist register) in the UK.

What is a cataract?


A cataract is a clouding of part of your eye called the lens. Your vision becomes blurred because cataract is like frosted glass, interfering with your sight. It is not a layer that grows over your despite what you may have heard.

If your doctor or optometrist has told you that you have a cataract, don't be alarmed, people over 60 have some cataract and the vast majority can be treated successfully.

You may notice that your sight has become blurred or misty or that your glasses seem dirty or appear scratched. You may be dazzled by lights, such as car headlamps, and sunlight. Your colour vision may become washed out or faded.

For more information see our Autumn 2006 newsletter.

What is macular degeneration?

Age Related Macula Degeneration

Sometimes the delicate cells of the macula become damaged and stop working, and there are many different conditions which can cause this. If it occurs later in life, it is called 'age-related macular degeneration'. Unfortunately we do not yet know why this happens.

Broadly speaking, there are two types of macular degeneration, usually referred to as 'wet' and 'dry'. This is not a description of what the eye feels like, but what can see when looking at the macula. Only about 10 per cent of all people with macular degeneration have the 'wet' type (all others are affected by the 'dry' type).

'Wet' macular degeneration results in a build-up of fluid under the retina. This causes bleeding and scarring which leads to sight loss. It can progress rapidly, normally within a few months, and sometimes responds to laser treatment in the early stages, as well as other new recent treatments.

'Dry' macular degeneration usually develops slowly, often over years, and there is as yet no treatment.

Macular degeneration usually involves both eyes, although one may be affected long before the other. This sometimes makes the condition difficult to notice at first because the sight in the 'good' eye is compensating for the loss of sight in the affected eye.

You cannot wear out your sight, so do not be afraid to continue to use the 'good' eye as normal.

Why not read the article Understanding Age Related Macula Degeneration in our Autumn 2007 newsletter.

What is glaucoma?

Eye Diagram

Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye conditions in which the optic nerve is damaged at the point at which it leaves the eye. This nerve carries information from the light sensitive layer in your eye, the retina, to the brain where it is received as a picture.

Your eye needs a certain amount of pressure to keep the eyeball in shape so that it can work properly. In some people, the damage is cause by raised eye pressure. Others may have an eye pressure within normal limits but damage occurs because there is a weakness in the optic nerve. In most cases both factors are involved but to a varying extent.

Eye pressure is largely independent of blood pressure.

There are three main types of glaucoma. The most common is chronic glaucoma (chronic = slow). The eye pressure rises very slowly and there is no pain to show there is a problem, but the field of vision gradually becomes impaired. Acute glaucoma (acute = sudden) is much less common. This can be quite painful and will cause permanent damage to your sight if not treated promptly. When a rise in eye pressure is caused by another eye condition this is called secondary glaucoma. In the UK some form of glaucoma affects about 2 in 100 people over the age of 40.

Why not read the article on Glaucoma in our Autumn 2008 newsletter. Autumn 2008 newsletter.

How can diabetes affect the eye?

Diabetic Retinopathy and Maculopathy

Diabetes can affect the eye in a number of ways. The most serious eye condition associated with diabetes involves the retina, and, more specifically, the network of blood vessels lying within it. The name of this condition is diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy is usually graded according to how severe it is. Background diabetic retinopathy is very common in people who have had diabetes for a long time. Your vision will be normal with no threat to your sight. At this stage the blood vessels in the retina are only very mildly affected. With time, if the background diabetic retinopathy becomes more severe, the macula area may become involved. This is called maculopathy. If this happens, your central vision will gradually get worse. Maculopathy is the main cause of loss of vision and may occur gradually but progressively. As the eye condition progresses, it can sometimes cause the blood vessels in the retina to become blocked.

Prolierative Retinopathy

If this happens then new blood vessels form in the eye. This is called proliferative diabetic retinopathy. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are weak. They are also in the wrong place - growing on the surface of the retina and into the vitreous gel. As a result, these blood vessels can bleed very easily and cause scar tissue to form in the eye. Proliferative retinopathy is rarer than background retinopathy.

Although your vision may be good, changes can be taking place in your retina that needs treatment. Because most sight loss due to diabetes is preventable, remember that early diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy is vital, have an eye examination every year, do not wait until your vision has deteriorated to have an eye test.

Our practice is accredited to undertake Digital Diabetic Retinopathy Eye Screening for patients registered with a GP in the Birmingham & Black Country Health Authority area. Please contact us to make an appointment.

What is myopia?

Myopia, also called near or short sightedness, is a refractive defect of the eye in which an image is focused in front of the retina. Those with myopia see nearby objects clearly but distant objects appear blurred. With myopia the eyeball is too long, or the cornea is too steep, so images are focused in the vitreous inside the eye rather than on the retina at the back of the eye. Myopia can be corrected through the use of negative or concave lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses. It may also be corrected by laser refractive surgery.

What is Hyperopia?

Hyperopia, also known as hypermetropia, or called far or long sightedness, is a defect of the eye in which an image is focused behind the retina. This causes an inability to focus on near objects, and in extreme cases causing a sufferer to be unable to focus on objects at any distance. With hyperopia the eyeball is too short, or the cornea is too flat, so images are focused behind the eye rather than on the retina at the back of the eye. Hyperopia can be corrected through the use of positive or convex lenses, such as glasses or contact lenses. It may also be corrected by laser refractive surgery. Hyperopia is often confused with presbyopia another eye condition causing blurred near vision.

What is astigmatism?

Astigmatism is a condition of the eye, where vision is blurred by an irregularly shaped cornea. The cornea, instead of being shaped like a sphere (like a football), is ellipsoidal (like a rugby ball). This means that a different prescription is found in different meridians of the eye, (i.e. the eye has different focal points in different planes.) For example, the image may be clearly focused on the retina in the horizontal direction, but not in front of the retina in the vertical direction. Astigmatism causes difficulties in seeing fine detail, and in some cases vertical lines (e.g., walls). Astigmatism of the eye can be corrected by toric lenses (i.e. a lens that has different radii of curvature in different planes). Astigmatism can occur by itself or in conjunction with myopia and hyperopia.

What is Presbyopia?

Presbyopia the eye's diminished ability to focus that occurs with aging. This arises from the loss of elasticity of the eye’s lens. Presbyopia is a condition that affects everyone at a certain age. The first symptoms are usually noticed between the ages of 40-50, though in fact the ability to focus declines throughout life. For those with good distance vision, it may start with difficulty reading fine print, particularly if the lighting is poor, or with eyestrain when reading for long periods. With presbyopia many people complain that their arms have become "too short" to hold reading material at a comfortable distance. Presbyopia becomes much less noticeable in bright sunlight. This is not the result of any mysterious 'healing effect' but just the consequence of the iris closing to a pinhole, so that depth of focus, regardless of actual ability to focus, is greatly enhanced, as in a pinhole camera. People often confuse presbyopia for hyperopia (long or far sightedness) as both will cause problems with near vision.

What are floaters?

Floater can start before birth when tiny particles of protein, stray cells, or strands of tissue become trapped while your eyes are being formed. They become trapped in the inner part of your eye which consists of a clear, jelly-like fluid known as the vitreous. As they float in the fluid, they cast shadows on the retina and the brain perceives them being outside the eye.

Why not read the article Seeing Spots before your Eyes Spring 2008 newsletter.