It’s 2020, folks. When has there been a more appropriate time to start taking your vision seriously?
When it comes to eye care, there are a few simple rules to maintaining healthy vision and preventing disease.
Important things the average person can do for their eyes are to protect them from UV exposure, to refrain from smoking and to wear eye protection when necessary, according to Kali Cole, M.D., M.P.H., of the Eye Institute.
A healthy diet and following the 20-20-20 rule also are essential for strong vision, especially for heavy computer users, adds Julie Holmes, O.D., owner of Downtown Tulsa Eyecare.
“When using digital devices, take a 20-second break and look 20 feet away every 20 minutes,” Holmes says. “This will help decrease eye strain and fatigue that occurs with prolonged screen time.”
In addition to preventative care, yearly exams are an important and easy way to evade ocular disease and to keep chronic eye conditions at bay. Chronic ailments and diseases of the eyes are most commonly refractive errors, macular degeneration, cataracts and diabetic retinopathy, Cole says.
Of these maladies, refractive errors are the most frequent eye problem treated in the U.S. These include myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), astigmatism (distorted vision at all distances) and presbyopia (loss of the ability to focus up close). All of these can be treated with eyeglasses, contacts and in some cases, surgery.
Macular degeneration, an age-related disorder that damages central vision, is the leading cause of permanent impairment of fine vision among people aged 65 years and older. Cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s lens, are the leading cause of blindness in the world.
Symptoms of cataracts and macular degeneration can include blurry vision, sensitivity to light and increased difficulty seeing at night. Surgery is the only way to correct both of these impairments, but Cole suggests protecting your eyes from UV exposure and avoiding smoking can slow down their progression.
Although macular degeneration and cataracts are often age-related disorders, diabetic retinopathy, another chronic condition, is a common complication of diabetes and affects people of all ages.
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in American adults aged 20-74 years and causes progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina. Cole says the risks of diabetic retinopathy can be reduced with well-managed blood sugar, blood pressure and lipid levels, but early detection is crucial.
“Early diagnosis of DR and timely treatment reduce the risk of vision loss,” she says. “However, as many as 50% of patients are not getting their eyes examined or are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.”
The common warning signs for most chronic eye diseases are noticeable changes in vision or blurred vision. Annual eye exams should include an analysis of retinal health, which is where many chronic conditions are discovered. Over time, our eyes and vision weaken due to natural structural tissue changes, Holmes says. But that doesn’t mean we have to suffer with poor vision.
“As people age, they’re at a greater risk for many eye diseases and conditions,” Cole states. “However, vision loss doesn’t have to be a normal part of aging. Early detection and treatment can help protect vision and prevent vision loss.”
Are you seeing the right eye care professional?
Ophthalmologists are medical or osteopathic doctors who complete over a decade of training and education. They are licensed to practice both medicine and surgery. They diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform surgeries and prescribe corrective glasses and lenses. An extensive education allows them to diagnose a wider range of conditions than optometrists and opticians, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Optometrists are health care professionals, but they are not considered medical doctors. They are licensed to practice optometry, which includes performing eye exams and vision tests, writing prescriptions and dispensing corrective lenses, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Additionally, they are licensed to diagnose and to prescribe medications for some eye diseases and abnormalities. Many ophthalmologists and optometrists work together as a team to diagnose and treat patients.
Low-vision specialists are licensed doctors of optometry or opthalmology with additional training in low-vision care. They are trained to treat patients who suffer from visual impairments, such as blurred vision, blinds spots or tunnel vision, which cannot be corrected with surgery, prescription medications, glasses or contacts, according to the Vision Council.
Orthoptists provide care to patients with disorders of the visual system, specifically involving binocular vision and eye movement, according to the American Association of Certified Orthoptists. Orthoptists help detect and manage conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) and diplopia (double vision). They are hands-on in all areas of patient care, academics and clinical research and can be found in private practices, hospitals and medical university settings. They serve patients of all ages, but because of the nature of some binocular disorders, many work exclusively with children.
Opticians are technicians who are trained to design, verify and fit eyeglass lenses and frames, contact lenses and other devices to correct eyesight, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. They are not licensed to test vision or write prescriptions for corrective lenses, nor are they permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases.