Are You Squinting through Summer? Maybe It’s Time for an Eye Exam

**By Thomas Saunders, OD**

eye-exam-webAugust is National Eye Exam Month, and may be the perfect time to consider a comprehensive vision examination. In many ways, the eye serves as a window to the rest of the body’s health, and routine eye examinations are an important part of preventive care for people of all ages.

During a comprehensive eye examination, your doctor will obtain a thorough personal and family history, highlighting conditions which may affect your eye health. Your ability to see as well as the movement and coordination of your eyes will be tested. A thorough evaluation of your eye health will be performed. To ensure optimal visual clarity, glasses or contacts may be prescribed.Your doctor will discuss the results of the examination with you, make treatment recommendations and answer any questions you may have regarding your vision or eye health.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), as much as 80 percent of what a child learns occurs through vision. Both the AOA and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) stress the importance of eye care for preschool and school-age children, as poor vision can lead to learning difficulties. Summer can provide a good opportunity for children to be examined before the start of another school year.

As we age, the incidence of eye health problems increases. The AAO reports that by age 65, “one in three Americans will have a vision-impairing eye disease.” Early detection and appropriate treatment are paramount in preserving vision throughout life. For this reason, the AAO recommends a baseline eye disease screening for all adults by age 40. Adults 60 and over should have an annual eye exam to monitor for any changes. Health problems such as diabetes and hypertension have the potential to negatively affect eye health, so patients with these problems should also be examined at least annually.

Optometrists serve as the gateway to eye care, with expertise in the detection and treatment of eye health problems, in addition to prescribing glasses and contact lenses. They work closely with ophthalmologists when advanced treatment and surgical intervention is needed. When researching ophthalmologists, look for certification by the American Board of Ophthalmology, indicating the successful completion of advanced training and intensive evaluation of clinical knowledge, skills and techniques.

So whether you’re a parent wondering if your child can see the board in school, a 40-year-old squinting to read small print or a 60-year-old worried about cataracts, why not make August the month to get your eye exam?

Frequently Asked Question: Should I See an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist?

For day-to-day vision care needs not requiring surgical treatment, an optometrist is a sound choice. In addition to prescribing and fitting glasses and contacts, most optometrists offer medical treatment for common eye problems, such as infections and dry eyes.

Many optometrists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic eye diseases such as glaucoma, as well as the detection and monitoring of cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. When choosing an optometrist for a specific concern, ask about their areas of specialty.

If serious eye health problems are found by an optometrist, you may be referred to an ophthalmologist for further examination and specialized treatment. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors trained to treat complex conditions and perform surgery, including the removal of cataracts, trauma care, treatment of detached retinas or other eye abnormalities.

In many cases the optometrist and ophthalmologist manage eye problems as a team, working together to provide the full spectrum of medical and surgical care to patients.

Thomas Saunders, ODThomas Saunders, OD, is a doctor of optometry who practices at Virginia Mason Federal Way Medical Center (33501 First Way S. Federal Way, WA 98003); 253-838-2400.

Here’s a Good Article – Better Get Your Glasses

Jennifer's new reading glasses.

Jennifer’s new reading glasses

As humans we can deny the aging process all we want, but inevitably the day will come when printed words on a page will seem to squirm before our eyes. Clarity only returns when we hold the print farther from our faces – striking the pose we recognize from watching older relatives. Then come the jokes: Is your arm long enough to read that?

OK I admit it! When I read small print up close, now it looks like a big blur. So why is this happening, and why in my 40s? The answer is so simple, it’s cool. Our eyes have natural crystalline lenses that are largely comprised of collagen. Tiny muscles inside the eye adjust the lens for focusing. When our eyes age so do our lenses, which causes them to thicken and become less flexible. All of this leads to lenses that no longer attain the proper shape to focus on near targets.

“In our early to mid-40s, many of us start to experience changes in our bodies related to the diminished elasticity of collagen, such as wrinkles on our skin or creaky knees,” says VM optometrist Christine Richter, OD. “In the eye, this loss of flexibility means very close things will look out of focus. Unfortunately, this process will continue progressing and the solution might be found in prescription glasses, contact lenses or even ‘cheaters,’ what people often call over-the-counter reading glasses.”

For many people, using cheaters, or drugstore reading glasses, is a pretty easy fix for this age-related vision problem. The key is finding the right level of magnification, or “diopter strength.” Typically off-the-shelf glasses start at diopter strength of 1.00 or 1.25, then increase by 0.25 increments up to 2.50 or 3.00.

When I went shopping for glasses, I tucked a piece of reading material in my purse for testing. Honestly, I was a little excited since I’d seen all the fun and colorful design options awaiting me at my neighborhood variety store. Pretty quickly I knew the diopter strength for me would be 1.50, which did narrow the options, but I could still choose from some crazy colors, patterns and frame shapes. Testing each pair is still a must, as there are variations in lens quality, even at the drugstore level.

According to Dr. Richter, you may do just fine with over-the-counter reading glasses if:

  • Both eyes are well-matched in terms of correction needed
  • You aren’t dealing with significant astigmatism, or blurred vision due to the irregular shape of your cornea or lens
  • You are satisfied with the fit and style of the glasses
  • You won’t mind removing your reading glasses for distance viewing
  • The glasses don’t cause noticeable eyestrain, headaches or both

If in doubt about whether the vision changes you’re experiencing are part of the aging process, get yourself to an eye doctor. “It is important to remember that an eye exam assesses much more than just vision,” says Dr. Richter. “Older adults are at increased risk for eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.”

Dr. Richter recommends that it’s especially important for parents to confirm their children’s eyes are developing normally by having an exam, ideally before kindergarten. Children who do require vision correction should be re-examined every year to check for changes. Adults who are not at risk for inherited eye disease are generally OK to follow up every other year.

So far my off-the-shelf reading glasses are working out fine – I chose black frames with zebra-striped temples (the long pieces that sit on your ears). But if things get blurry again, I will go in for an eye exam. And I can’t wait to see all the style possibilities.