Friday, February 03, 2012
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When was the last time you went to the eye doctor? I’ve needed glasses since I was in middle school and I’m not too proud to admit that it’s been around 6 years since my last visit. To be honest, I haven’t noticed any change in my eyesight, so I didn’t think it was necessary to go. However, the American Optometric Association recommends that even if you have perfect vision, you should still go to an eye doctor every two years if you’re younger than 60, and every year if you’re older. Clearly I am way off the mark – and I’m not the only one.
Interested in who else lapsed in their routine checkups, I found a study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It showed that more than a third of adults over the age of 40 hadn’t seen an eye doctor in the past year because they felt like they didn’t need to. So what’s the big deal? How can skipping a few eye exams be a problem if you don’t notice any vision impairment?
I spoke with Dr. Norman Saffra, Director of Ophthalmology, about why the CDC thought postponing an eye exam was such a concern. He told me that during an eye exam, eye doctors do more than just check your eyes to see if you need a new prescription. Really? The only thing I remember from my last eye exam is looking at a sign with letters on it and getting my pupils dilated.
A bit confused, I asked Dr. Saffra, “Well, what else do you do?”. He told me that “the physiological composition of the eye allows doctors to detect signs of serious health conditions before physical symptoms present in other parts of the body.” He went on to explain that during a complete eye exam, optometrists and ophthalmologists can actually view the optic nerve and blood vessels in the eye. This close examination gives physicians a clear view of vascular and neurological health, enabling the early detection of complications such as brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, high blood pressure and diabetes. He said “Unlike other medical specialties, during an eye exam we can directly and noninvasively see the status and health of blood vessels and evaluate a person’s vascular health”. All of that from a simple eye exam.
What I didn't realize was that vascular health is incredibly important nowadays, especially when you take into consideration the growing number of obese and diabetic Americans. Did you know that the CDC now estimates that by 2050 one-third of American adults will be afflicted by type 2 diabetes? Diabetics have uncontrolled glucose levels that damage blood vessels, including the tiny ones in your eyes. Known as diabetic retinopathy, some of the initial symptoms include small blood vessel leaks, microaneurysms and swelling of the macula. The basic idea is that when uncontrolled glucose levels (aka hyperglycemia) begin to affect eye health, it is very likely that there is already damage to other parts of the body such as the neurologic system, kidney and heart.
Evidence shows that if diabetes is detected before a patient develops serious complications, treatment and management is much more effective. So if it’s been a while since you’ve had an eye exam, call your doctor. I made my appointment today. Just don’t ask me how long it’s been since I’ve seen the dentist – that’s another story.