Line of sight

Local eye experts share tips to help you see clearly.



From top left: Salt frames, $340, Black Optical; Tag Heuer frames, $399, Visions; Kate Spade frames, $189, Dr. Robert Zoellner & Associates; Thom Browne frames, $500, Black Optical; Anne et Valentin frames, $515, Black Optical; Michael Kors frames, $199, Dr. Robert Zoellner & Associates; From top right: Chanel frames, $429, Visions; Salt frames, $340, Black Optical; Robert Marc frames, $449, Visions; Oliver Peoples frames, $389, Visions; Chanel frames, $389, Visions; Dita frames, $600, Black Optical; Barton Perreira frames, $495, Black Optical

They say the eyes are the window to the soul, which raises the question ... Are you taking care of your eyes?

Eye health begins with visiting an eye doctor once a year. Doing so allows for preventive eye care and early detection of issues, according to Dr. Monte Harrel, CEO of Harrel Eyecare Center. 

If you’re searching for an eye doctor, how do you know whether to see an optometrist or an ophthalmologist? 

An ophthalmologist (M.D. or D.O.) attends medical school and surgical rotations, while an optometrist (O.D.) receives his or her bachelor’s degree and then attends a four-year optometry school, focusing on eye health and minor procedures. Both ophthalmologists and optometrists see patients for basic vision problems requiring glasses. 

The difference between the two becomes clear when surgery is needed, says Harrel, who is an optometrist. At that point, an optometrist will coordinate with an ophthalmologist — usually when a patient needs cataract or retinal surgery.  

“Optometry is kind of like the family eye doctor for your eyes,” Harrel says. “We pretty much take care of everything until surgery.”  

By looking in the back of your eye, they also can see cholesterol levels and blood sugar issues and diagnose a patient with hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. 

“Sometimes that is the first detection,” Harrel says. “Sometimes issues can present in the eye first, and we can coordinate with a patient’s primary care physician.”

Common conditions and treatments

After you choose an eye doctor, prepare for your first appointment by jotting down any issues or discomfort you want to discuss.

Allergies can make the eyes dry, but dry eye also can be an age-related condition, according to Harrel. Both cause stinging, burning and physical pain. They also can cause discomfort for individuals who wear contact lenses. Harrel says dry eye is possibly the No. 1 issue he talks about with patients.  

“Now we’re able to diagnose which type of issue they’re having and be more specific in treatment rather than just using an artificial tear off the shelf,” Harrel says. “We can be more targeted with different minor procedures and special drops, so we can help people a lot more than we used to.”

Another common complaint, headaches, can be vision related or a neurological issue. If a patient has double vision, blurred vision or vision loss, an eye doctor will first search for ocular causes or may refer them to a neurologist, says Harrel.

Other age-related issues include presbyopia, a condition that surfaces after age 40, in which the eyes can no longer focus on near objects as well as they once did. Translation: it’s time for reading glasses or bifocals. 

Glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes and macular degeneration are other conditions a doctor will want to monitor in older patients, says Dr.
Brian F. Williams, a residency-trained optometrist and co-owner of EyeCare Associates of South Tulsa-Owasso.

“Once a patient hits the age of 45, we definitely recommend coming in once a year for an eye exam,” he says. 

Preventive eye care

Myriad events can cause eye injuries, but many can be prevented. 

This time of year, Williams sees patients who experience eye trauma from weed eaters, cleaning their yard or other outdoor activities. 

Start with wearing UV-protection sunglasses and protective eye glasses in the yard, he says. This includes children. 

“A lot of issues that affect us when we’re older can be prolonged or prevented with good UV protection, especially with kids,” Harrel says. “Most of the sun damage that occurs to our eyes — it’s the same with our skin — it occurs in the first 20 years of our lives.”

He also suggests taking a daily antioxidant, either lutein or zeaxanthin, to help prevent macular degeneration. Either can be purchased over the counter or ingested through foods such as in kale, spinach, lettuce and egg yolks.

If your work involves sitting at a computer, position your monitor so your eyes are at the top of the monitor looking down, he says. 

“It’s actually much better for your neck and your eyes if they don’t have to open as much to blink,” Harrel says. “If you add that up over a long day, it offsets the dry eye that occurs.”

During the day, look away from the computer every 10-15 minutes, whether out the window or down the hall. 

Why? Eye muscles used to focus actually relax when we look far away, Harrel says, “just like loosening up a muscle in your arm.”

Also, don’t smoke. Williams says the habit is the worst thing for macular health. The macula is the most detailed part of vision. Individuals with macular degeneration can’t drive, read or see people’s faces. They’re only left with their peripheral vision. 

“Patients who smoke have a higher incidence of macular degeneration,” Williams says. “Smoking is hard on the vascular system and also the blood system to the eye and macula.”

Other evolving eye technology:

Individuals who wear bifocal glasses can now wear multifocal contact lenses, allowing for a better range of vision up close and from a distance.

Specialty lenses help those with eye disease affecting the cornea. 

Digital software can now customize multifocal glasses for each person’s prescription.  

Pediatric eye care

Vision checks should start as early as possible in life to monitor for visual problems that could cause a developmental problem in the eye, says Dr. Brian F. Williams, co-owner of EyeCare Associates. 

“For instance, if a patient is far-sighted in one eye and not in the other eye, that far-sighted eye will sometimes not develop correctly,” he says.  

“There’s a window of opportunity to give the appropriate prescription to that patient or do some type of treatment or therapy so that eye develops.”  

One of the more common problems is eye coordination, says Dr. Monte Harrel, CEO of Harrel Eyecare Center.

“Someone might be able to read the eye chart fine, but when they go to look up close, the eyes don’t coordinate well,” he explains. “It’s as if the brain is seeing two slightly different images because their eyes are pointing at two different spots on the page.”

Eye coordination can be helped with vision therapy, which is physical therapy for the eyes using activities and exercises to teach the eyes to coordinate.

Another often-overlooked condition is amblyopia, a condition in which one eye can see well, but the other eye cannot, Harrel says. The condition may not be discovered until a pediatric or school screening. 

The underdeveloped eye will need vision correction, which can be done with an eye patch or activities to stimulate that eye, and glasses may be needed, as well. 

Williams says parents should watch for and schedule an eye exam if they see:

Eye turns (eyes pointing different directions)

Struggling in school

Holding material close or sitting extremely close to the television or an object

Any abnormality in pupil color

As with adults, regular eye appointments for children will help maintain their eye health and set up good habits for later in life.

“A routine eye exam is the most important thing,” Williams says. “Just like we go to the dentist every year to have our teeth cleaned or checked, an eye examination is crucial in long-term ocular health.”

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