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Raise Your Sights

Raise Your Sights

*Repurposed from Winter 2019 edition of HealthLINK Magazine.*

Regular eye exams are the first step toward saving your vision.

You can take steps to protect your eyes from major vision-impairing conditions—such as glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. A comprehensive eye exam helps your eye doctor find problems early, when treatments to prevent vision loss work best, says Eric Steuer, MD, PhD, ophthalmologist who specializes in retinal surgery. Here’s what to know about these common eye conditions:

Glaucoma: Gradually increasing pressure inside the eyeball can damage the optic nerve, leading to the loss of peripheral (side) vision first and then central vision. Early-stage glaucoma has no symptoms, so eye exams are crucial. Eyedrops and surgery to lower eye pressure can prevent further vision loss.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Sharp, central vision is lost with
AMD, due to thinning of the center of the light-sensing retina at the back of your eyes (called “dry” AMD) or when blood vessels grow under this area, then leak and scar (“wet” AMD). If you have dry AMD, your doctor can recommend a specific nutritional supplement that can lessen the risk of progression of the condition. For wet AMD, several injectable prescription drugs can help.

Diabetic retinopathy: The leading cause of adult blindness in the U.S., this condition causes damage to the blood vessels of the retina. Controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, along with injections and surgery, can help.

What is a comprehensive eye exam?

During a comprehensive eye exam, an ophthalmologist or qualified optometrist will ask you about your vision, overall health, family medical history, and medication use. He or she will check your vision by asking you to read an eye chart. But that’s not all. Your doctor will check your peripheral vision, evaluate how well your eyes move, measure the pressure inside your eyes, and examine the front of your eyes—your eyelids, cornea, iris, and lens. Your doctor will also put drops in your eyes to dilate or widen your pupils for a closer look inside the eye, examining your retina and optic nerve to check for signs of disease.

Most people should have a baseline eye exam at age 40, Dr. Steuer says. Start sooner if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of eye conditions; if you notice changes in your vision; or if recommended by your physician. Based on the results of your exam, your doctor will discuss how frequently you should have exams in the future. After age 65, it’s important to have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

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