Like many aspects of our health, eye health is something we tend to take for granted until something goes wrong. But when you think about how fundamental our vision is to all that we do in our daily lives – from looking at this website to driving a car – we are well-advised to take care of our eyes and be proactive in ensuring they remain healthy.
The most obvious – and the most common – eye health issue is that many people experience diminished vision or vision loss. Most people are familiar with the standard vision exam, in which the patient is asked to read letters, displayed in rows of varying sizes, from a chart. The doctor is able to assess the state of the patient’s vision based upon the smallest row of letters that the patient can accurately make out.
The chart is generally placed 20 feet away from the patient, and when a patient can read the letters off of the chart that most people would able to read from 20 feet away, then that person is said to have 20/20 vision, or 20/20 visual acuity. For someone who has less than normal vision, the second number will increase, i.e., 20/40 vision. In cases in which a patient has better vision than the normal person, the second number will be lower, i.e., 20/10.
If your vision is weaker than 20/20, refractive correction is probably in order. In other words, you need eyeglasses or contact lenses. According to a study by the National Eye Institute, refractive disorders are the most common eye problem in the U.S., and roughly 11 million Americans age 12 and older could improve their vision with refractive correction.
Generally, vision problems caused by refractive errors can be classified as myopia (near-sightedness) hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances). The nature of the refractive error determines what type of lens is called for in the glasses or contacts. As people age, vision problems can change, necessitating periodic vision exams to update the eyeglass prescription.
“Because vision can deteriorate slowly over time, many people do not notice it as it happens,” said Steve Wigginton, M.D., a Texas Health Care ophthalmologist. “Regular vision exams are essential to ensuring that someone has the most effective eyeglass or contact prescription, in order to provide them the strongest and clearest vision possible.”
Eye exams, conducted by an ophthalmologist, are also critical to early detection of other eye problems. Depending upon a patient’s age, eye health, overall health and other factors, your ophthalmologist may conduct an eye exam by dilating the eyes. In dilation, eye drops are administered, causing the pupil to widen. The widened pupil allows more light into the eye and provides the doctor with a better view of the back of the eye. Regardless of the method of eye exam, there are several conditions and diseases which can be detected through an examination.
Macular degeneration is a disorder of the eye associated with aging and is most common in people over the age of 60. Macular degeneration affects one’s ability to see objects clearly; it diminishes the central vision, which is crucial to common tasks, such as reading.
Glaucoma is a set of eye diseases which damage the optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. It is generally caused by elevated pressure in the eye, brought about by an accumulation of fluids. Damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed, which is why early detection through regular eye screenings is so important. While treatment cannot undo damage caused by the disease, it can slow its progression and mitigate the effects of it. Eye drops and oral medication can be prescribed to lower the pressure in the eye and in some cases, surgery is an option to treat glaucoma. Glaucoma can affect people at any age, but is most common in adults over the age of 60. Because early detection is so important in preventing permanent vision loss as a result of glaucoma, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that adults age 40 and over have an eye exam every four years.
Cataract is the clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in diminished vision and blindness. Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in the United States and cataract removal is the most common surgery performed in this country. In cataract surgery, the clouded lens is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
It surprises many people to learn that the leading cause of blindness in the United States is not glaucoma or cataracts – it is diabetes. One of the possible consequences of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes is diabetic retinopathy, a disease which damages the blood vessels at the back of the retina. The longer one has diabetes and the longer the blood sugar is not properly managed, the more likely the patient is to develop diabetic retinopathy.
“Annual diabetic eye screenings are absolutely essential for any person who has diabetes or has been diagnosed as pre-diabetic,” said Harry Rosenthal, Jr., M.D., a Texas Health Care Ophthalmologist. “I conduct diabetic eye screenings for many patients, and we are able to successfully identify problems and prevent vision loss through treatment. It’s so important that diabetic patients be screened annually in order to detect problems before they result in permanent vision loss.”
Chronic dry eyes are common in people over the age of 60, causing the eyes to burn, itch, water and otherwise feel uncomfortable. Your ophthalmologist can treat dry eyes with drops, easing these symptoms and making your eyes feel normal again.
Reconstructive Eye Surgery
In some cases, surgery is required to reconstruct the eye, eye socket or eye lid in the event that a patient has had a cancer of the eye or a traumatic injury that seriously injured the eye. Texas Health Care member Carrie Morris, M.D., is an oculofacial plastic surgeon who specializes in the removal of cancers of the eye and reconstruction of the eyelid and eye socket. “When I see a patient who has a cancer of the eye or has had a traumatic injury, they are understandably concerned about their appearance, as well as their vision,” said Morris, the first and only physician who is Board Certified in Cosmetic Laser Surgery Procedures in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. “Fortunately, there have been incredible advances in the field of oculofacial reconstructive surgery, enabling us to provide patients with results that often exceed their expectations.”
Take Care of Your Eyes – Everyday
In addition to periodic eye exams, there are a number of things we can do every day to protect our eyes and vision:
- Wear sunglasses: ensure that you wear sunglasses that are rated to block between 99 – 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.
- Wear eye protection: wear safety goggles when doing yard work or repairs in your home, such as painting.
- Eat healthy: certain foods, such as dark leafy greens and those that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as tuna, are known to enhance the health of the eyes.
- Do not smoke. If you do, quit.
Our eyes are our own personal windows to the world. Take care of them!
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