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Your 4 Most Important Eye Health Questions Answered

PREVENTION & TREATMENT The eyes are the windows to your overall health. How can you better care for yours? A doctor of optometry addresses four major concerns.

Andrea P. Thau, O.D.

President, American Optometric Association

According to a recent survey, 91 percent of Americans feel that the health of their eyes is as important as the health of their heart. Unfortunately, eye health and vision care are sometimes taken for granted. Many people do not take the first step to protect their eyes by receiving a regular, in-person comprehensive eye examination. Doctors of optometry can detect more than just vision issues; they can detect health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, brain tumors and eye disease that have no obvious signs or symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to maintaining good vision and eye health.

Throughout my career as a doctor of optometry, I have helped patients understand the core tenets about eye health resulting in a stronger doctor-patient relationship which has enabled us to collaboratively further their eye health and vision care. We want to make sure each of our patients has the information and a partnership with their doctor of optometry to preserve their eye and vision health.

1. How accurate are smartphone eye exam apps?

Despite catchy claims, there is truly no “app” for a comprehensive eye examination. In fact, more than half of Americans question these app’s reliability and accuracy. While online apps claim to evaluate vision or the fit of eyeglasses and contact lenses, they can provide inaccurate or misleading information. Patients then end up delaying essential, sight-saving treatment. Although online “tests” claim to save patients hours of time, they may actually be a waste of time, causing a delay in prevention and diagnosis resulting in progressive damage to vision and more expensive and intensive treatments later in life.

2. Can digital devices cause vision damage?

Most Americans, including children, spend seven hours or more a day using computers or other digital devices such as tablets and smart phones, even though 88 percent of Americans know that digital devices can negatively affect their vision. The constant use of digital screens increases the risk for dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue due to the overexposure to blue light — high-energy visible light emitted from digital devices. Other health issues from the overuse of digital devices include sleep problems, blurred vision, headaches and neck and shoulder pain. I recommend that people practice the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. 

3. Can long-term exposure to the sun hurt my eyes?

Yes. I advise my patients to protect their eyes against UV rays, increasing your risk for certain eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration. Sunglasses aren’t just for summer. It’s extremely important to wear them no matter what the season, as UV-A and UV-B rays reach the eyes directly from the sun or through reflections from surrounding environments such as snow, water, sand or even concrete.

4. Can I wear my contact lenses longer to save money?

I recommend that patients stop this practice immediately. Breaking the rules of appropriate contact lens wear and care puts your vision at risk. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2010, people made 930,000 doctor's visits plus 58,000 emergency department visits in the United States for microbial keratitis (an infected cornea). Follow your doctor of optometry’s recommendations for appropriate wear and replacement to avoid problems such as blurred vision, red or irritated eyes, eye pain or more serious conditions like keratitis or potentially blinding corneal ulcers. An annual in-person comprehensive eye examination is crucial to maintaining eye health for contact lens wearers.


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