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Eye On Health

by Mary Ann Romans

Why regular eye exams are important for your overall health and wellness

Our eyes do so much for us, yet we often take them for granted. Even those of us with good uncorrected vision should see an eye care specialist on an annual or semi-annual basis. Regular eye exams can not only check your vision, but can also screen for potential sight-threatening conditions, and may alert you to certain serious and life-threatening health conditions you have or could be developing.

Your eyes and your health
Your eye care professional may be able to see the evidence of serious conditions when he or she looks at your eyes. “Generally if something is affecting your overall health, it is also affecting your eyes,” says Dr. Sally Halim, of Village Eyecare in Woolwich. “Some of the more common general health conditions that can affect the eyes include diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, AIDS, arthritis, anemia and herpes, just to name a few.”

Dr. Douglas E. Mazzuca Sr., of Mazzuca Eye and Laser Centers in Pennsville and Logan, and also president of the New Jersey Academy of Ophthalmology, includes autoimmune disease, brain tumors and strokes on that list as well. “There are also other rare disorders, not mentioned, that may be detected in an eye exam,” he says.

Different ages, different issues
Potential eye problems can vary by age, and different populations tend to have different risk factors.

“School-aged children may be farsighted (have trouble seeing up close) and struggle with reading and/or math,” Halim says. “Screenings at the pediatrician and with the school nurse generally only check for nearsightedness (trouble seeing far away).

“In addition, adolescents may have issues with tracking, reversing letters or comprehending what they are seeing. These patients may not necessarily need glasses, but they could benefit from vision therapy with a pediatric optometrist. A routine checkup with your general optometrist can generally pick up these types of conditions. With proper treatment, these patients gain a lot of confidence and notice drastic improvements in their studies.”

“For children, eyes that cross, extreme farsightedness or nearsightedness are things that we look for,” Mazzuca says. “With teens and young adults, it is usually refractive errors. Refractive errors cause less than perfect vision, requiring correction, glasses or contacts.”

“Young adults spend a lot of time on the computer these days,” Halim adds. “These patients experience more eye strain and dry eye due to the increased demand on their focusing systems from the computer. Glasses are often prescribed to these patients to lessen eye strain or reduce glare.”

Once we get into our 40s, we may start showing signs of presbyopia, a condition that exhibits a progressively diminished ability to focus on near objects, the typical need for reading glasses as we age.

“Middle-aged and elderly patients need to be evaluated for conditions like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration,” Halim says. “In addition, many systemic conditions like diabetes and hypertension can be detected with a thorough eye exam. Even the medications used to treat some of these conditions can have an effect on the eyes; the side effects of these medications range from dry eye to cataract formation.”

“Glaucoma is a disease that patients don’t typically know they have in the early stages,” Mazzuca says. “That is why it is important that they get comprehensive checkups, especially if you are vulnerable (if you have family members with the disease).”

It is at age 60 and older when many eye diseases start to manifest, he adds, recommending that patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, get annual comprehensive eye exams and pay special attention to their condition.

Surprising information you need to know
“Due to the increased usage of computers and handheld devices, I am putting younger and younger patients into bifocals and progressive [no-line bifocals] these days,” Halim says. “Our focusing muscles cannot handle the stress of using these devices.”

Using sunglasses? You may actually be increasing your risk for a serious eye disease. “An inexpensive pair of sunglasses can actually dilate your pupils, causing more of the harmful UV rays to enter your eyes,” Halim says. “You are actually better off squinting [and blocking out UV rays that way] than wearing an inexpensive pair of sunglasses.” Of course, the best choice is to invest in a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. “Optical quality sunglasses help prevent the progression of conditions like macular degeneration and cataracts. They also block out the reflections from water and snow better than traditional tinted lenses. Sun protection is needed all year round, especially during overcast days. The UV rays tend to be the most harmful on those days.”

What other factors can affect your eye health? According to Mazzuca, nutrition is one of the biggest. “Proper nutrition is very important, not only for our heart, our brain and our body, but our eyes. It is critical that you limit saturated fats, eat plenty of vegetables, limit the amount of fried and processed foods, eat three helpings of fish a week, and keep the carbs and sugars to a minimum.”

Resources

Mazzuca Eye and Laser Centers Locations in Logan and Pennsville (856) 241-8900; (856) 678-4800 DrMazzuca.com

Village Eyecare 120 Center Square Road Woolwich (856) 832-4950 SJVillageEyecare.com

What’s in a Name? Ophthalmologist versus Optometrist

Many of us confuse ophthalmologists and optometrists, two very different eye care professionals. An ophthalmologist is someone who first went to medical school, earning a medical doctorate, and then completed a residency specializing in the care of the eye. You will find either a MD or DO degree after his or her name. An optometrist is someone who completed optometry school and has earned a doctorate degree in optometry. You will find a OD degree after his or her name.

Eye Screenings for Young Children: When and how often?

Young children also need regular eye screenings. “Annual exams in very young children may pick up conditions like congenital glaucoma or congenital cataracts, eye turns (lazy eye) or blocked tear ducts,” ­says Dr. Sally Halim, of Village Eyecare in Woolwich. “These issues can impact learning if they are misdiagnosed or are overlooked.”

Douglas E. Mazzuca Sr., ­­of Mazzuca Eye and Laser Centers in Logan and Pennsville, offers the following recommendations, endorsed by the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The American Academy of Ophthalmology:

• Newborn to 6 months: General eye screening, which includes history, vision assessment, ocular motility, pupil exam, ophthalmoscopy and red reflex exam. If there is a problem noted, they are sent for a comprehensive exam by an ophthalmologist.

• Six months to 42 months: Additional screening as above

• Forty-two months to 5 years old: Additional screening

• Five years and older: General screening every one to two years

“I agree with this recommendation,” Mazzuca says. “However, I believe that once a child reaches the age of 7, he or she should have a comprehensive eye exam.”

Published (and copyrighted) in the Art of Living Well pull-out section of Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 5, Issue 1 (March, 2014).
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