By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
About 12 million people in the United States — mostly 40 years of age or older — have some type of vision impairment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“One of the many reasons why people should think about their ocular health is that the eye is one of the most utilized organs,” said Avani Dave, optometrist and director of the specialty contact lens service at the Ross Eye Institute.
Dave offers five tips for quality eye health.
1. Eye health
Just because you may have 20/20 vision doesn’t mean your eye health is spectacular. There is more to simply having excellent vision when it comes to the quality of your eyes and overall health.
“A big misconception is that people think your eyes are solely about vision,” said Dave. “They think if your eyes are working fine then your overall eye health must be good, but that is not true.
“People don’t realize that we can check early signs of diabetes through the back of the eye vessels. Your eyes can be the first indication that you are having symptoms of multiple sclerosis as well.”
2. Eye exam
Regular eye exams are also an important part of finding eye diseases early and preserving your vision. Eye diseases are common and can go unnoticed for a long time; some have no symptoms at first. A comprehensive dilated eye exam by an optometrist or ophthalmologist is necessary to find eye diseases in the early stages when treatment to prevent vision loss is most effective.
“What drives a lot of people when they come to see their eye doctor is that they feel like something is going wrong with their vision,” said Dave. “Oftentimes our exams are the first time when they really attempt to close one eye and see how successful their vision is with the other eye and vice versa. That is when they find out that one eye might be stronger or weaker and that corrective lenses may be necessary.”
3. Pediatric patients
Parents can schedule a comprehensive eye exam for children as young as 6 months old. A parent should have his or her child’s eyes examined at least once before they start kindergarten. Though people tend to have more vision problems as they get older, children need eye exams to ensure healthy vision too. But only 39% of preschool children have had their vision tested, which is needed to diagnose eye diseases. Amblyopia, which is reduced vision because the eye and brain aren’t working together properly, is the most common cause of vision loss in children—two to three out of 100 children, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Amblyopia needs to be treated promptly to help avoid vision loss. Problems treated early almost always have good outcomes so a child can have a healthy start to their education.
“What we are seeing now is that nearsighted conditions that normally would develop later in life, we are having children develop those issues very early,” said Dave. “Many of the issues are because of children and teens on their cell phones for hours.”
Presbyopia is a refractive error that makes it hard for middle-aged and older adults to see things up close. It happens because the lens, which is an inner part of the eye that helps the eye focus, stops focusing light correctly on the retina, a light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye.
Presbyopia is a normal part of aging. Everyone gets presbyopia as they get older — usually after age 45.
“When you have this condition, you have difficulty focusing up close,” said Dave. “You get the feeling like your arms are not long enough because you are often holding things out away from your eyes as far as possible to see or read the object in your hand. This was previously something that we saw beginning with people in their 40s. But, like many conditions, we are seeing them earlier now.”
When it comes to treatment for eye exams, it depends on your condition. Cataracts or clouding of the lens is the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Diabetic retinopathy causes damage to blood vessels in the back of the eye and is the leading cause of blindness in American adults. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve along with age-related macular degeneration. Some can be fixed with drops such as dry eyes, other ailments require glasses or contact lenses.
“We also advise people to walk away from their computer screen every 20 minutes. It’s not ideal to be doing work and staring into a screen for hours,” added Dave.