Practice team guide

How I explain...

From glaucoma to dry eye disease, OT  hears from optometrists how they describe different eye conditions to patients


Communicating in language that patients can understand and relate to is an important skill for every member of the practice team.

A patient may be curious about an eye condition described in a leaflet on the reception desk, or want to know more about an eye condition that a family member has been diagnosed with.

Knowing how to respond in language that is accurate but free of jargon builds trust in a practice and its staff.

OT approached optometrists who have honed their explanations over time to share how they explain common eye conditions.

Age-related macular degeneration, explained by optometrist Dr Martin Smith

“Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is wear and tear to the back of the eye – given enough time, everyone would suffer from the condition. The cells in the middle of the retina are slowly damaged with age and that affects our central vision. I show patients optical coherence tomography scans and retinal images to illustrate the changes.

“Most people with early AMD will not lose significant amounts of vision in their lifetime, but some people can struggle with tasks such as driving and reading, and some people with AMD develop changes which can cause rapid vision loss if not treated.”

Cataract, explained by optometrist Dr Vijay Anand

“Cataract is the lens, which sits behind the coloured part of your eye, that grows as we get older. As it grows, it gets thicker, and the light can't pass through to the back of the eye. That is when your vision starts to become misty and blurry. The effect on your vision might be for distance or near vision, but it is a constant blur – not something that comes and goes. You may also note problems with bright lights or headlights as the glare from these can make the vision even worse. It's nothing that you have done to your eyes – everyone who lives long enough will get a cataract.”

Dry eye disease, explained by optometrist Sarah Farrant

“Think about the tears as being the most complicated fluid your body makes. Their ultimate role is to create a vertical wall of water over the surface of your eye. You can imagine that is a fairly complex thing to do. What happens in dry eye disease is that some balance is lost in terms of either the quantity or the quality of the tears that you are secreting.

You blink about 12,000 times a day. Your eyelids travel many miles – if they are not well lubricated on their journey, that is going to cause a lot of friction

Sarah Farrant

“That imbalance creates a problem with the ways the tears are then supplying nutrients and lubricating the eye’s surface. That ultimately leads to inflammation and a lack of lubrication.

“You blink about 12,000 times a day. Your eyelids travel many miles – if they are not well lubricated on their journey, that is going to cause a lot of friction. The cornea is the most sensitive part of your body. If you have extra forces rubbing against your eye that is going to lead to a lot of symptoms of discomfort, irritation and dryness.”

Glaucoma, explained by optometrist Dr John Gurney

“Glaucoma is a very complex disease process but in the simplest of terms, the eye produces fluid and drains fluid to keep the structures in the eye stable. The eye needs a constant pressure – in a similar way to a car tyre. Both too much and too little pressure is bad.

“In open angle glaucoma, the drainage may be compromised as the structures lose their elasticity leading to a build-up of pressure inside the eye which can cause damage to the nerve leading to loss of visual field and vision if not treated.

The eye needs a constant pressure – in a similar way to a car tyre

Dr John Gurney

“In closed angle glaucoma, the outflow mechanism can narrow with age – for example, when cataract develops – thus causing the pressure to increase and leading to damage to the nerve if not treated.”

Myopia, explained by optometrist Professor James Wolffsohn

“When we are born, our eyes are small, but nature allows them to grow to have the optimum optical power and length based on the world around them. Unfortunately, the artificial modern environment, with reduced natural light and close working distances, can disrupt this process, causing the eye to grow too long, leaving the eye focused at a close distance. Not only is a refractive correction needed for distance vision, but there is an increased risk of damaged vision later in life from the stretched back of the eye.”