Here’s Why You Should Keep An Eye On Your Eyes
There’s a saying that the eyes are the window to your soul, and regardless of your age, if you don’t regularly get your peepers tested, that window could get blurry, and if even worse, completely opaque. Since August marks National Eye Exam Month, The Rockaway Times seized the opportunity to speak to local optometrist, Joanna Komar O.D., of Zwerling Ophthalmology to educate readers about the critical importance of regular comprehensive eye exams, which can reveal dire undiagnosed health issues that can literally make you blind.
According to the National Eye Institute, in the U.S alone, 61 million adults are at risk for vision loss, and only half of those adults visited an eye doctor in the past 12 months. Also another astounding statistic is that only 48% of parents with children under 12 have never taken their child to an eye care professional. Komar emphasized that the recommended age for a first eye exam is six months.
“Surprisingly, the correlation is that kids should get tested as early as six months. Now obviously this is not checking for a prescription, because it would be impossible to test a six-month-old with a standard eye exam. However, it is critical to test for eye cancers such as retinoblastoma (an eye cancer, which most commonly affects young children). We test this by doing a dilated eye exam by putting some drops in and checking the retina. Also at that age, you want to check your children for eye turns (otherwise known as “lazy eye”). Then as your child gets to about kindergarten age, you can start getting regular eye exams to check for vision. Until the age of eight, our eyes are still developing. So, there are eye conditions that have to be diagnosed before that age in order to correct vision,” Komar said.
Another condition that Komar emphasized that everyone should routinely get tested for is glaucoma, an eye disease that causes damage to the eye's optic nerve and gets worse over time. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life. If the entire optic nerve is destroyed, blindness results.
“Glaucoma has no symptoms for the majority of the disease, until it’s basically too late. That’s because it’s caused by sensitivity to pressure in the eyeball and has no noticeable symptoms until it’s in an advanced stage. Many patients report no pain, eye redness, nor blurry vision. In many cases, a loss of peripheral vision is so gradual, it goes unnoticed. That’s why it is important to get tested for it regularly. Of course, the probability for us to get it increases when we get older, but there are people who get glaucoma early on. I had a patient who was 18 years old that developed glaucoma, and if not for the fact that she came in for a routine test, she would not have known and ultimately would have lost a significant amount of her vision. This is why early detection is critical in diagnosing glaucoma and other asymptomatic eye diseases,” Komar shared.
Komar also revealed a surprising fact—everyone, as they age, will develop cataracts. “Cataracts are something that everyone gets as they age. Just like we get gray hair and wrinkles, we develop cataracts as we get older. It’s just a question of when, and it is absolutely correctable, especially if caught early. Unlike glaucoma, most people notice when they are developing cataract symptoms such as blurry or cloudy vision."
As for if constant staring at smartphones or computer screens causes vision loss, Komar said rarely, but constant focusing on a screen or even reading does cause some eye irritation.
“When our eyes are focusing on something up close, not just our phones and computer, but even reading a book, what happens is the eye blinks less. We recommend taking breaks from the screen to relax the eyes and to use lubricating drops because what happens is when we don’t blink normally, our eyes become dry and scratchy. It’s not a lasting damage per say. Now with kids, there is some evidence that prolonged staring at a screen can cause increase in their near-sighted eye prescription, but the differences are usually very minor,” Komar said.
As for how often people should get eyes tested, Komar said the rule of thumb is yearly, but there are exceptions.
“In general, regardless of their age, we recommend that people get their eyes checked yearly. If one is generally healthy, and they skip a year, it’s ok. However, when it comes to older people, we definitely advise once a year, and even every six months, if for example, we are monitoring cataracts or mild macular degeneration, (an eye disorder that slowly destroys sharp, central vision, which makes it difficult to see fine details and read). Now with kids, even those who are generally healthy, because their eyes are still developing, their prescription may drastically change because they are still growing, So, they should definitely be checked yearly because any vision problems could affect their performance at school and overall quality of life,” Komar said.
As for why people should recognize National Eye Examination Month and schedule an exam, Komar was adamant that time waits for no one.
“The most important thing to remember is that you cannot go back in time. For example, with serious conditions such as glaucoma, there are many people who wish they had their eyes tested in the past when it was still treatable. Many patients come in, not knowing they had it, and it was too late. So it’s critical to make sure to get your eyes tested regularly. An exam could put your mind at rest, just like when you go for your yearly primary care physical. It’s always important to get your health checked,” Komar said.
Zwerling Ophthalmology is located at 117-18 Rockaway Beach Blvd). For more info, visit: www.rockawayeye.com
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