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Health Topics
Two Common Eye Conditions Styes and Glaucoma

A stye is an infection of a sebaceous gland of the eyelid. Staphylococcus is usually the bacterium that causes the stye. The infection is usually found in the root of an eyelash on the edge of the eye. It is a small boil which develops on one of the oil glands. The function of these glands is to keep the eyelashes moist and lubricated. Styes usually develop a white head after a few days and the head will exude pus. The area can be painful and tender to touch. The infected site turns red as the stye develops. The eye might be photosensitive and may weep. Should the stye persist or deteriorate, a Doctor should be consulted. A persistent lump in the eyelid may well be a cyst which might have to be removed by minor surgery.

Immunosupression or compromise may give rise to the development of a stye. In such a case immunostimulants may be helpful. Chamomile is a herb with anti-inflammatory activity and so a warm chamomile tea bag placed over the eye may be helpful in relieving pain and drawing the stye to a head. The Staff at the Pharmacy will be happy to assist you with conventional eye drops which can be bought over the counter and can be very effective in the treatment of the minor infections causing the styes. The eye can also be bathed with a mild antiseptic in warm water. An eyebath would be useful for this and can be purchased at the Pharmacy. A hot compress can also be used to help bring the stye to a head. The compress should be applied every two hours for maximum effect.

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of conditions characterised by damage to the optic nerve, usually following an increase in pressure if the fluid within the eyeball. This pressure is called intraocular pressure and glaucoma is usually accompanied by a loss of vision which can vary from a slight loss of vision to complete blindness.

Glaucoma usually occurs in people over forty years of age. The eye is filled with a liquid called aqueous humour, secreted by membranes lining the eye. Normal pressure is maintained by allowing some of the fluid to drain away. When the drainage pathway is blocked for some reason, aqueous humour continues to build up causing an increase in pressure within the eyeball. The optic nerve can then be damaged causing scarring. This nerve is the link between the eyes and the brain. Blood supply can be reduced to the optic nerve fibres leading to blindness.

Glaucoma can be categorised as primary, secondary or absolute glaucoma. Most diagnosed cases of glaucoma fall into the primary category and may result in peripheral vision loss or coloured halos around lights. There is a gradual loss of vision and there may also be some pain from increased pressure.
Secondary glaucoma occurs because of a pre-existing condition such as a tumour, an enlarged cataract or inflammation. Absolute glaucoma is the end stage of all glaucomas. Early detection and treatment helps to avoid the glaucoma reaching this stage.

Glaucoma is diagnosed by the Doctor through a simple and painless test. In many cases the Doctor will prescribe drops that will control the onset of the disease. It is essential that the pressure in the eyes is tested regularly, particularly in individuals with a family history of glaucoma. Everyone over forty years of age should have an eye test at least every two years.

Vitamin C and bioflavanoids can be useful in maintaining the strength of collagen in the body and are therefore useful in prevention of glaucoma. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency may be associated with glaucoma. Caffeine may affect the pressure in the eye and so should be avoided. Magnesium can lower eye pressure by relaxing the blood vessels supplying the eye and gingko has been shown to be beneficial for glaucoma as it can improve blood flow and contains flavanoids which support eye structure and function. Chromium is important for people with diabetes as it can help with blood sugar balance and the prevention of glaucoma.

Correct use of eye drops is important. The lower eyelid should be pulled down and the drops placed inside the lid. The drops can be administered lying down if this is easier or more convenient. The eye drops should always be used even when the vision is blurred and the eyes are uncomfortable. If using more than one type of drop, at least five minutes should be left between administering each one. Preservative free drops should be thrown away after one use and those with a preservative should be thrown away after twenty eight days.

More information and assistance is available from:
The Irish Glaucoma Association, 60 Eccles Street, Dublin 7. E-mail:

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Kevin McCormack B.Sc. Pharm. MPSI