Canadians are leaving themselves at risk for detectable eye disease believing that they don’t need to see an optometrist if they can see well, according to new research released to kick off October Eye Health Month in Canada. Eye health experts say Canadians avoiding eye exams could be setting themselves up for serious eye disease.
The eyes show more than what they see
Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Dagenais had chronic migraines for a few years but her family doctor in Ottawa did not suspect anything until a routine eye exam by her optometrist in September 2005. Upon seeing pressure and swelling around her optic nerve, Dr. Ian Edmison immediately sent Stephanie to hospital emergency where it was discovered she had a brain tumour. Ten days later Stephanie had life-saving surgery to remove the tumour, which was thankfully benign.
It was a disturbing experience for Stephanie, her family and friends. She is currently seeing a neurologist due to some retinal damage but otherwise she is in good health. “I am thrilled to see that Stephanie recovered from this ordeal and that I had a role in this very positive outcome,” said Dr Edmison from his private practice in Carleton
Place, Ontario. “It is an amazing story, but just talk to any optometrist to discover the extent of what a comprehensive eye exam can reveal.”
Of course, not all headaches are caused by a tumour but Stephanie’s story serves to underline the importance of routine eye health exams as part of preventive health care. When it comes to eye care, regular examinations by your optometrist are an important part of maintaining healthy eyes and vision – and in some cases, a healthy body.
“Even if you have perfect vision”, says Dr. Ralph Chou, Associate Professor at the School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, Ontario, “a regular optometric eye exam can help identify changes in vision as well as diseases that can progress without symptoms or warnings.”
Study Shows Canadians’ Eyes at Risk
Canadians who skip annual eye exams believe they don’t need to see an optometrist if they see well. Forty per cent said that they only need to go to an optometrist when they have an eye problem, yet diseases occur even with 20/20 vision. For example, glaucoma and diabetes many not at first affect vision or the ability to see and may progress undetected leaving the eye and patient vulnerable to damage. In stark contrast, only one in ten Canadians said you only go to a dentist when there is a problem.
“New research tells us that the notion of preventive eye care is missing a significant number of Canadians,” said Dr. Lillian Linton, National Public Education Committee Chair for the CAO. “There is still a great need for awareness about eye health prevention.”
Leger Marketing conducted a study on behalf of CAO via an online survey collected between July 18 to July 22, 2007. It showed that while over half of Canadians said having their eyes checked by an optometrist is very important to them, those that don’t wear glasses or contacts believe that if they see well, they do not need to see an optometrist.
Most Canadians who do not see an optometrist regularly believe that eye exams are only for those who have eye problems (57%). This is especially true of men (62%) who were significantly more likely than women (47%) to say they don’t see an optometrist because they don’t have eye problems. Fortunately, in Canadian households, more female heads of households than male heads take care of health care appointments.
Half of those surveyed (48%) agreed that symptoms would indicate that there is something wrong with their eyes, and yet the CAO emphasizes that even if you have good vision, a regular optometric eye exam is still necessary, since many eye diseases can progress without symptoms or warnings.
For most of us, our eye sight is essential for working, playing sports, looking at the people we love and many things beyond this. An interesting online study last year showed that seven out of ten Canadians (70%) would not give their eyesight up for anything, not to win the lottery, not to be Prime Minister, not even for a lifetime of great sex. However when it comes to caring for our eyes, most of us don’t even think twice.
Here is a quick checklist of medical conditions that affect your eyes and vision.
Glaucoma. The onset of glaucoma, when excessive pressure inside the eyeball leads to loss of visual field, is often painless and not obvious. Early detection is important and glaucoma can be effectively treated with prescription eye drops. In some cases, surgery may be required.
Cataracts cause the lens of your eye to become cloudy, which distorts vision. “Damage starts early,” says Dr Chou, “and we’re finding as a result of ozone depletion that more people are ending up with cataracts at a younger age – the usual age would be the 70s but we’re seeing it in people as early as 40s.” The condition often requires a corrective lens change or surgery.
Macular degeneration is a loss of central vision and the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 50. Early detection is the key to managing the disease.
High blood pressure and diabetes are common conditions that affect the eyes and vision. Anyone with these conditions should have their eyes checked regularly.
Children’s Vision: ‘Eye See… Eye Learn’
Children need appropriate eye health and vision care during their developmental years and yet the majority of children starting school do not have the care they need. The Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) recently launched ‘Eye See…Eye Learn’, an awareness program to educate parents about the important link between learning and good vision and to encourage parents to take their children to an optometrist for an eye exam before they begin kindergarten. The program partners government, schools and local community groups made up of parents, teachers and health professionals.
“People commonly associate 20/20 with perfect vision,” says Dr. Dorrie Morrow, an optometrist in Sherwood Park, Alberta, and chair of the Children’s Vision Initiative at CAO. “20/20 is a good measurement for vision at a distance of 20 feet, but how well a child can see up close is an even bigger component of vision problems that relate to learning difficulties.” Approximately eighty percent of how a child learns in the first 12 years is visual and, once they start school, most of this visual learning is done at about 12 inches distance.
Along with checking a child’s near and distance vision, an optometrist will also monitor binocular coordination (how the eyes work together), focusing skills, peripheral awareness, eye movement skills and eye/hand coordination. An eye examination may also identify conditions such as lazy eye (amblyopia) and crossed eyes (strabismus). Experts say that it’s important to identify these conditions when children are young. Some vision problems are most correctable between the ages of five to nine when vision is still developing.
“A child isn’t born with the ability to use two eyes together as a finely tuned system, or to track along words on a page and focus close-up. This skill develops over the first few years of life,” says Morrow. It’s important to encourage children to use their visual skills in different ways throughout the day: for example, colouring, playing/working on a computer, or playing outdoors. “On the other hand, when a child watches television for six hours a day, the ability to maximize on visual skills is limited,” says Morrow.
If a child needs prescription glasses, a positive attitude can make all the difference to a child’s approach – Harry Potter has certainly become a popular personality and advocate for parents who want to put a positive spin on spectacles! Your optometrist can also discuss options if your child is a candidate for contact lenses.
The Sun & Your Eyes
At any age and at any time throughout the year, your eyes need protection from the sun. Sunglasses aren’t just for fashion, they’re your first line of defense in keeping your eyes safe from the sun.
The effects of UV exposure to the eyes are cumulative and the longer your eyes are exposed the greater your risk of developing eye problems later in life, says Dr. Lillian Linton, an optometrist in New Brunswick. Unprotected exposure to UV rays can speed up the progression of one of the most common degenerative eye conditions: cataracts. As well, too much sun can play a role in the development of Macular Degeneration – the leading cause of vision loss and legal blindness for seniors in North America.
UV radiation has been shown to also cause benign growth on the eye surface, cancer of the eyelids and skin around the eye, and temporary but painful sunburn of the eyes’ surface (photokeratitis). Exposing eyes to sunlight causes squinting, which causes wrinkles and can lead to headaches.
The good news is it’s easy to protect your eyes. Wearing wide brimmed hats is a good habit but it will only block about 50 percent of UV radiation. Sunglasses block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB radiation. You will also want to ensure your lenses are free of distortion and imperfections – ask you optometrist for options. Sunglasses are important whether you’re working, driving, playing sports in the sun, even on cloudy days and in winter months. Make it a habit – proper sunglasses for your eyes!
|Eye Exam Schedule|
Vision care should actually begin soon after we’re born. Problems can occur from birth and if these problems are not treated efficiently and effectively, they can deteriorate and impair vision permanently. Here are guidelines for healthy Canadians as recommended by CAO. Anyone with vision-related health risks will need to be seen more frequently.
AGE EXAM RECOMMENDATI ON
Preschool (2 to 5 years) At age 3, and prior to entering elementary school
School age (6 to 19 years) Annually
Adult (20 to 64 years) Every one to two years
Older adult Annually
Computers & Vision
In today’s electronic age, computer use affects vision and in the last several years, computer glasses (also called online readers and enhanced readers) are now available.
The lens’ focus is between arms length and reading assistance. For people who wear glasses already, computers are set up so that screen/display is usually at an intermediate distance. Standard reading glasses or bifocal lenses will not provide a clear comfortable view of intermediate distance (arms length or slightly beyond). “This may cause you to rock forward and sometimes slightly tilt your head back to look through a bifocal,” says Dr. Chou. The result is often neck and lower back pain and other musculoskeletal problems. Visit opto.ca for more information or talk to your optometrist to discuss your computer habits.
What’s New in Eyewear
Talk to your optometrist about new types of contact lenses. ‘Silicone’ hydrogel contact lenses breathe better to keep the cornea healthy. There are also contact lenses for overnight wear and astigmatism. “But one size doesn’t fit all,” says Dr. Chou. “You need a proper contact lens assessment and fitting to make sure you’re getting the proper lens for you.”
CAO cautions Canadians not to share or contact lenses – this is especially popular with cosmetic lenses. Whether it is for prescription or just to change eye colour, a contact lens is a medical device and needs proper care.
A whole new world of possibilities and options are available. New plastic photochromic materials are now being used in prescription glasses. These lenses darken when you go outside to provide UV protection, as well as comfort in the sunlight.
If you need near and distance vision correction, you may want to consider progressive lenses that offer several corrections in one pair of glasses (i.e., for reading, computer work and seeing at a distance). “There is a bit of a learning curve but it can make all the difference to you lifestyle. It’s important to work with your optometrist to learn how to use hem and wear them,” says Dr Chou.
Also, ask your optometrist about ‘freeform’ lenses that use a new manufacturing process to improve clarity and visual performance of lenses. Manufacturers are making thinner lenses, which can be more cosmetically appealing to some people. You and your eyes deserve the best in eye health, eye care and eye wear.
For anyone who works at a computer, it’s important to give your eyes & body regular breaks from staring at the screen. CAO recommends the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, Take a 20 second break and Look 20 feet away.
|TEST YOUR EYE-Q AND YOU COULD WIN A GPS|
CAO is hosting an Eye-Q Test at www.opto.ca