First of all, Happy New Year! I'm writing this blog post from my underground bunker, just in case the Mayans were off by a couple of weeks. I am hopeful the apocalypse will not occur anytime soon, but to be sure, I'll just stay down here a couple of more days with my crates of bottled water and rations of Twinkies and astronaut food, doing eye exams by candlelight...
Well, as it is evident, no one can see the future, but you can see the present. But can you see the present CLEARLY? Or is it a blurry, headache, squinty mess that makes you avoid or quit reading, using a computer, watching television, or any other visual task?
However, clear vision is only a part of the equation. You may be able to see "Eagle Eye better than 20/20 vision" without eyeglasses or contact lenses, but can you be absolutely sure there isn't a suspicious looking growth the size of Mount Vesuvius in the peripheral retina of your right eye? My personal recommendation is an annual eye exam to not only check vision, but to check the health of the eyes for cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and a plethora of non-symptomatic eye diseases. For example:
1) Cataracts = usually an age-related condition. The older you get, the higher the risk of cataract formation. Cataract formation due to age is typically a slow, gradual change. Also, changes may occur in one eye more than the other, causing vision changes to go unnoticed. These changes include: blurred vision, increased glare and light sensitivity, difficulty driving at night or reading in dim illumination (restaurants), and a diminution of colors. Researchers have linked nutrients such as lutein/zeaxanthin, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc to reducing the risk of eye diseases such as cataracts.
2) Glaucoma = also an age-related condition, but can happen at any age. Glaucoma is irreversible damage to the optic nerve causing vision loss that is related to high pressures in the eyes. So, the older you get and the higher the intraocular pressure, the higher the risk of developing glaucoma. A family history of glaucoma is also a risk factor. Glaucoma causes vision loss to the peripheral vision first, and then begins to impact the central vision in mid- to late stages of glaucoma. Any vision loss is not recoverable, so treating glaucoma in its early stages is important to prevent blindness. The only way to tell is if you have high intraocular pressures is to get them measured at an eye exam: the air puff OR the yellow numbing drop combined with the blue light. And if there is a high suspicion of glaucoma, your eye doctor will recommend additional medical testing to check for evidence if glaucoma is taking place: computerized peripheral visual field test (sensitive test for peripheral visual field changes), optic nerve photography and/or optic nerve scanning laser tomography (documents changes to the optic nerve appearance over time), corneal pachymetry (front of the eye thickness), gonioscopy (are the drainage angles in the eye open?) and repeat intraocular pressure measurements (measurements can vary throughout the day). YES, it's pretty involved!
3) Macular degeneration = again, an age-related condition. This condition causes central vision loss due to structural damage to the macular region of the retina, the very center most portion responsible for fine, central visual acuity. There is a "dry" and "wet" form of the disease, and there are varying levels of severity. Unfortunately, both forms are bad to have, and the condition only progresses causing vision deterioration as time goes on. Blurred vision may be the start of this disease. So, if left undiagnosed, it can get shot to H-E- double hockey sticks in a hurry. Again, at least yearly exams and macula photography or macular tomography is important to document change. Multivitamins formulated for macular degeneration have been shown to slow down the advanced stages of macular degeneration. Oh, and AVOID SMOKING! Smoking quadruples the risk of developing macular degeneration!
4) Eye lesions = can happen anywhere and anytime. The develop of benign and malignant lesions are usually related to lengthy exposure to UV rays (outdoors, tanning booths). They can happen on the eyelid, the inner part of the eyelid, the white part of the eye, the colored part of the eye (iris) and even the back of the eye (choroidal nevus). The nevi (freckles) typically occur on the iris and the choroid. Just like suspicious-looking freckles on the skin checked at regular intervals for changes in size, shape, and color, so should any suspicious areas of the eye be checked.
Dilating the eyes is important to make sure the entire eyeball is healthy, so that the eye doctor can look into your eye with a wide-open pupil that doesn't constrict when the light is shined into it. If you've never had your eyes dilated, let me tell ya', it's loads of fun! Actually, I'm biased. The majority of non-eye doctors would easily admit they'd rather have a tooth pulled sans novocaine...but dilating the eyes are important to make sure that Mount Saint Helens sized retinal lesion (yes, it's getting bigger!) isn't happening at all.
The take home message is that not all eye diseases are created equal. Some diseases are not a big deal, some cause vision loss that is not detectable by the patient until it's too late, and some diseases may be a sign of more serious conditions, such as cancer.
If you've never had the dilating drops at wherever you get your eyes examined, do your eyes and yourself a favor and go somewhere that does. You only get one set of eyes, and you want them to outlast your body so that you can see everything as clear as possible until your last day on earth (which may, or may not, be caused by an apocalyptic event).
Ps. And in case you don't know where we are, below is a picture of our sign visible from Rt. 183 (across the street from Boyer's Food Market). Drive into the parking lot and come on in! Welcoming New Patients!