By JAMIE LOBER
When it comes to saving your sight, making the commitment to get screened is your best defense. “At least every couple of years everyone should have an eye exam,” insists Dr. John Gallaher, optometrist. A child may be nearsighted and unable to see far away but not realize it because they have not seen differently. A businessman may be farsighted or have a stigmatism from straining his eyes at the computer and not realize that he could use help. “Eye problems can happen to anyone,” finds Gallaher.
Good nutrition helps the entire body and the eyes are no exception. People sixty-five and above may suffer from macular degeneration or damage to the retina that makes it hard to see fine details.
“Zinc is one of the main minerals that helps slow or prevent it,” says Gallaher. Supplements or leafy green vegetables that have antioxidants can also promote eye health. “There is some truth to the carrots. They help to preserve night vision,” reveals Gallaher.
Invest in a good pair of sunglasses that have UV protection. “The UV from the sun that gets absorbed is the primary cause of cataracts aside from age. It starts to yellow and cloud up the natural crystal lens that is in your eye,” says Gallaher. A bargain for your wallet is not always a bargain for your longterm vision. “When you buy a five to ten dollar pair off the rack, it has a sticker that says UV protection. It might be ten, twenty or fifty percent which is not great. You should have ninety-nine percent,” says Gallaher. Tanning beds give off harmful ultraviolet rays that are equally, if not more, damaging. “Some people think they can close their eyes but they are taking a risk,” says Gallaher.
Be safe rather than sorry. “You should wear safety goggles any time you are doing any kind of work where things could be flying around a little bit,” says Gallaher. Wearing protective eyewear can be sight-saving when playing sports as well.
Be aware of vision changes. “Every person around forty gets presbyopia and loses focusing ability. Even fighter pilots that have 20/10 vision will start having trouble focusing up close and have to start wearing reading glasses,” tells Gallaher.
Know what to expect at the comprehensive eye exam so you are not in for a surprise. The eye chart is a thing of the past. “We use an iMac computer with a visual acuity panel that has all kinds of different eye charts. At the press of a button, I am able to change to different letters or for children, pictures or numbers. Years ago, you could not do this with just an eye chart stuck on the wall,” says Gallaher.
Instruments are also a great resource. “I have instruments that let me see inside the eye to the back of the eye. It is the only place in the human body where you can see working arteries and veins without cutting someone open,” shares Gallaher.
Thanks to advances in diagnostics, eye troubles can be detected and treated earlier. For glaucoma, an air puff machine used to be used to check pressure. People did not like it and results were not always accurate. Now, there is a Goldmann tonometry test that is accurate and people do not mind. “I have a GDx which is a scanning laser that scans the optic nerve and the nerve fiber layer of the optic nerve and gives me a printout of any damage or suspicious things happening with the patient. If the pressure is causing a problem, we can get it down,” assures Gallaher. Another new machine called an optical coherence tomography is like getting an MRI of the retina and helps to show retinal diseases.
While some conditions are out of our control, others are preventable. Eye infections such as conjunctivitis or pink eye are common. “When people sleep in contact lenses, there is a high risk of corneal ulcer which is one of the most painful things you can have. It needs to be treated aggressively with strong topical antibiotics,” says Gallaher. Preventative measures are similar to avoiding the common cold. “We emphasize that you should wash your hands before you reach up to take contacts out or put them in because that is a source of infection,” says Gallaher.
Tell those you care about that it is time to see an eye doctor if they have not already scheduled an appointment this year. Dentists have done a great job getting people on board to go to the dentist twice a year and eye doctors are determined to catch the wave.
“Most people would put their eye sight over their teeth if they had to choose. There are definitely reasons why people should get to the eye doctor more than they do,” expresses Gallaher.