Focus on eye health
Protect your eyes at every stage of life.
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You probably take your peepers for granted as long as they are doing their job. So, it’s important to take care of them.
Often vision changes so gradually that individuals might not notice how bad it has become until they have an eye exam, says Mary Anne Ahluwalia, D.O. of Triad Eye Institute.
Regular eye exams should start around 6 months old for a healthy infant, says Ken Merchant, O.D. of Vision Source.
“If no problems are detected, I then recommend seeing the child again around the age of 3,” he says. “Once a child reaches school age, I recommend annual exams as our eyes and vision can change rapidly as we grow.”
Parents of children and young adults should watch for problems, including an eye turning in or out, squinting, frequent eye rubbing or blinking, tilting the head to see better or covering one eye to read.
“Parents should also watch out for behaviors, such as short attention span, avoiding reading, difficulty remembering what he or she read, or complaining of headaches or seeing double,” Merchant says.
Although a number of conditions can affect the eye at any age, Merchant says during adolescent exams he particularly looks at how the eyes work together.
“If diagnosed and treated early, developmental problems linked to these vision disorders are typically corrected or reduced, leading to fewer difficulties throughout the child’s life,” he says.
Continuing checkups into adulthood
While examining adults in their 20s and beyond, Monte Harrel, O.D. of Harrel Eyecare says it is important to look for dry eye disease, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. Many diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, can first present themselves with eye or vision troubles.
For adults under 40 — with normal vision and no risk factors for disease — Ahluwalia recommends regular checkups every five years. In this stage of life, accidents that injure the eye are a pressing concern. Adults 40-54 should get a checkup every two years.
When examining patients in their early to mid-40s, Merchant says he looks for signs of presbyopia: losing the ability to change focus from far to near, which might call for reading glasses or bifocals.
“The risk of glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration increases with birthdays and is seen more often in people over 50,” Ahluwalia says.
Those 55 and older should consider annual checkups.
Burning, itching, redness, watering and/or a gritty feeling of the eye can be signs of dry eye, Merchant says. Not only irritating, it also can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
“People with serious health problems, including diabetes, hypertension and autoimmune diseases, should also be alert to secondary eye problems associated with their overall health,” Merchant adds. “Everyone should watch for blurry vision. While this could simply indicate a need for a new prescription, it could suggest early signs of cataracts or macular degeneration.”
Gender and risk factors
Research shows women are at higher risk for developing macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataracts, Merchant says. They are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases that can affect the eyes, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune disorder that affects moisture-making glands such as the eyes and saliva. Susceptibility to these diseases, along with hormonal changes and other factors, cause women to be twice as likely as men to develop dry eye disease.
Fortunately, advanced technologies exist to correct many conditions, including dry eye. Harrel says one option is Miboflo Thermoflo, a warming heat treatment that releases hardened oils from the eyelids into the eyes.
“This helps mild to severe dry eyes, making vision sharper and improving comfort of the eyes,” he says.
Merchant says another beneficial advancement is Eyezen +, a lens that alleviates eyestrain. It uses a filter that reduces exposure to harmful UV and high-energy blue light, a boon for those who log many hours of screen time.
Finally, the KAMRA Inlay procedure eliminates reading glasses in patients who have trouble with near vision. An ultra-tiny, semi-permanent implant in the non-dominant eye changes the way the eye focuses light, allowing the eye to focus on items up close.
Glasses or contacts?
Contacts are generally prescribed around age 13, but Merchant says he prescribes contact lenses based on a patient’s ability to properly care for and handle the contacts.
Refractive surgery, such as iLASIK, is another option for select patients and can eliminate the need for glasses and contacts. It is FDA-approved for patients 21 and older, Ahluwalia adds.
As Merchant says, “The best way to avoid all eye concerns is to have routine eye exams.”
5 quick tips for eye health
Have regular checkups.
Early detection equals prevention.
Always wear proper eye protection/sunglasses.
Protect your eyes from sunlight, eyestrain from computer screens and high-risk activities like yard work. Use sunglasses, special eyeglasses or safety glasses.
Step away from the screen.
“Computer vision syndrome” and digital eye strain affect 75 percent of computer workers, according to the Vision Council and the American Optometric Association.
Smokers are twice as likely to develop macular degeneration and three times as likely to develop cataracts compared to nonsmokers.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise.
“Regular exercise and a healthy diet go a long way toward prevention of diabetes or slowing down the effects of the disease,” Ken Merchant, O.D. says. Diabetics are 40 percent more likely to develop glaucoma and 60 percent more likely to develop cataracts, according to the American Diabetes Association.