Go Easy on Those Eyes

As Mom said, they're the only pair you've got. Here are four problems to beware-and why.
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Together they weigh about half an ounce, but they’re our windows on the world: the eyes. Think of all we perceive—and learn—and enjoy—through sight! Eye problems can put all that at risk, so it’s vital to protect those peepers with regular checkups.

Michael Eric Rosenberg, M.D., of the Department of ophthalmology at Hackensack University Medical Center, says adults should go for eye exams at least annually if they have any sort of vision problem, every other year if they’re asymptomatic.

And attention, parents! Eye exams should start early in life. “Toddlers as young as three should have their eyes checked for amblyopia, commonly known as ‘lazy eye,’” says Douglas Liva, M.D., of Liva eye center in Ridgewood. “Once children reach age five, it’s more difficult to correct that condition.”

If you suspect that you or a family member has suffered an eye injury, remember that early evaluation is key. “I saw a college student once who got into a fight, was injured and waited four months to get his eyes checked,” says Dr. Liva. “That was unfortunate, because he suffered some permanent visual loss that could have been prevented with earlier treatment.”

According to the world health organization, 80 percent of vision problems are avoidable and easily curable. While the years bring inevitable wear and tear on the eyes, seeing an ophthalmologist regularly, getting prompt treatment for any problems and avoiding certain dangerous conditions can help keep your eyesight strong for decades.

Beware these four eye maladies:

Cataracts

What is it: Dr. Liva describes this condition as the clouding of the human lens. “Think of your camera,” he says. “No matter how much you focus, if the lens is cloudy, you won’t be able to see clearly through it.” Risk factors include age, a family history of the condition, uncontrolled diabetes and dehydration.

Should you worry? People with diabetes as well as those over age 60 should be checked regularly for cataract. The good news? “Modern cataract surgery can not only remove cataracts, but also reduce refractive errors,” Dr. Liva says. These errors include myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), presbyopia (an age-related condition in which diminished flexibility in the lens can cause symptoms similar to farsightedness) and astigmatism (an irregularity in the eye’s curvature that can produce blurry vision).

Dry Eye

What is it: Dryness that commonly occurs when there’s a shortage of oil in tears. “Your tears are made up of oil, water and
mucus,” Dr. Liva explains. “When people don’t secrete the proper amount of oil due to a dysfunction in their meibomian glands [located at the rims of the eyelids, that causes tears to evaporate quickly, leading to dry eyes.”

Should you worry? Because of hormonal factors, women are more susceptible to this condition. Luckily, it’s easily detectable and there are treatments such as over-the-counter drops to help soothe the pain. Dr. Liva’s advice? “Dry eyes can be minimized by omega-3 fatty acids.” Try the supplement or stock up on oily fish such as salmon.

Glaucoma

What is it: A disease of the optic nerve for which the number- one risk factor is an elevated intraocular pressure—fluid pressure in the eye. This pressure varies through the day and can be influenced by drug or alcohol use, caffeine, some exercises—even playing some wind instruments. (check your habits with your eye doctor.) The increased pressure damages the optic nerve, which sends images to the brain. “Think of a tire,” says Dr. Liva. “Putting too much pressure on it is no good.” The result? Slow loss of peripheral (side) vision at a slow speed. other risk factors include being over 60, being african-american or hispanic, or having a family history of the condition.

Should you worry? Glaucoma at its worst can lead to loss of vision, and symptoms don’t usually present themselves until the condition is advanced. But Dr. Liva is confident that it can be spotted early on with proper routine eye exams. “It’s very detectable in this day and age, especially with the new tests and instruments we have, such as optical coherence tomography [ocT] nerve fiber analysis,” he says.

Macular Degeneration

What is it: “This is a disease that can affect your central vision,” Dr. Rosenberg says. There are two types of macular degeneration: wet and dry. wet, or exudative, occurs when blood vessels form underneath the retina. Dry or atrophic macular degeneration is commonly associated with aging and the associated thinning of macular tissue. Smoking is a big risk factor.

Should you worry? “It’s very rare to get it before you’re 60,” Dr. Liva says. Although your risk of developing the disease increases as you get older, a routine eye exam should be able to catch it. “There is no treatment for dry macular degeneration, but there are vitamins that can slow the progression,” Dr. Liva says. “For the wet form, there are certain injections we can use to treat it, and occasionally we use lasers. When appropriate, we refer patients to a retina specialist,” Dr. Rosenberg says.


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