We take our vision for granted. Seeing is one of easiest and most natural things we do, from the time we open our eyes in the morning to the time we close them at night. That’s why the American Optometric Association (AOA) designated March as “Save Your Vision” month, and optometrists and ophthalmologists alike are encouraging people to take steps to safeguard their vision.
“We’ve made significant advances in the treatments for many vision disorders, and that means common problems like cataracts, glaucoma and dry eyes can be treated more easily than ever before,” said Milan Patel, MD, board-certified ophthalmologist at Emory Johns Creek Hospital (EJCH). “But people may also be happy to know that many activities we were told as kids would help or harm our vision, really have no effect at all.”
For example, Dr. Patel said reading in dim light and watching television up close are not necessarily bad for the eyes. And those carrots we were told we had to eat if we wanted super sight? Not that great, either, except for those living in underdeveloped countries where general nutrition is an issue. However, the extra vitamin A certainly won’t hurt, according to Dr. Patel.
So what should we do to promote healthy vision?
“The number one thing people can do for vision is obtain regular dilated eye exams,” said Dr. Patel. “A routine eye exam can uncover so many different ocular disorders—and even other health disorders like diabetes—that we recommend people be evaluated at least once in their teens or twenties, and then every three to five years after that if everything is normal.”
Dr. Patel also stressed the importance of wearing ultraviolet protection (sun glasses with polarized lenses) year-round. He said exposure to ultraviolet rays could cause pterygium, or degeneration of the front lining of the cornea. There are also some studies that show ultraviolet rays can cause degeneration of the central portion of the retina, the part of the eye that helps us see straight ahead.
Number three on the list: wearing protective eyewear during certain activities, like sports or while doing yard work. According to a recent EyeSmart survey, the majority of eye injuries occur in people’s homes and not at work. Furthermore, the 2008 Eye Injury Snapshot survey showed the majority of those injuries occurred in the yard, garage and other type of home workshop.
Once patients have done what they can to prevent vision from deteriorating, they can rest assured that when it comes to the problems that are harder to prevent—such as cataracts or dry eyes—medical advances have made treatments readily available. Dr. Patel said many people visit the eye doctor thinking they have an eye infection, glaucoma or some other issue. In actuality, they often have dry eyes, a condition that can be treated with certain medicines or even just by blinking more if they’re sitting in front of a computer all day. He recommends patients stay away from using Visine, since it constricts blood vessels to remove the redness. The root of the problem is that eyes need proper lubrication and a well-balanced lubricating eye drop can be much more effective as a long-term solution.
“While things like cataracts are eye conditions that arise with age, they can be treated with a short, outpatient surgical procedure to replace the yellowing lens of the eye,” said Dr. Patel. “Five years ago, people who underwent cataract surgery still needed reading glasses after the procedure. Now, we can replace the patient’s lens with a bifocal lens if needed.”