True or false: I can see well, so my eyes are healthy. If you answered "true," then you're one of millions who believe in this common eye health myth. Certainly it seems plausible that if your vision is in good order, then your eyes are ultimately healthy.
In truth, many serious eye diseases have no early symptoms and often go undetected for years. What's more, it's in the early stages when these diseases are the most capable of successful treatment. As a physician who practiced ophthalmology for more than 25 years, I can tell you that the best way to maintain healthy eyes is by getting a regular eye exam.
Eye diseases are sometimes referred to as "silent killers" because they can rob your vision slowly, steadily over decades. An optometrist or ophthalmologist can develop a map of your eye health during a regular exam and then track minute changes over a period of years. If detected early, many eye diseases can be controlled with medication; however, if an eye disease is caught once vision loss has occurred, more often than not the vision loss cannot be reversed.
Three major diseases of the eye that can be slow to develop but treated if detected early through an eye exam include:
Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve, often due to increased pressure in the eye, called intraocular pressure (IOP).
Macular degeneration is a physical disturbance that affects the macula, the part of the eye responsible for acute vision, used when reading, driving, and performing other activities.
Diabetic retinopathy is a concern for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics and is caused when high blood sugar and hypertension (high blood pressure) damages the tiny blood vessels leading to the retina.
Eye exams don't just detect changes in your eye health -- they can also be an important indicator of your overall health. Think of the eye as a tiny window into the body; its micro-blood vessels and delicate nerves can be the first pathways of detection for major health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Changes that may be slowly evolving in the body often present themselves within the eye's fragile structure first -- and can be found during a routine eye exam.
Risk factors that can elevate your need for an eye health exam include: a family history of eye disease (especially macular degeneration and glaucoma), obesity, smoking and diabetes. Keep in mind that regular eye health exams are just as important in childhood as they are in adulthood; children should receive their first eye health exam before they begin primary school.
Our ability to see affects everything we do, every day. Consider your risk factors and take the time to schedule a routine eye exam today. Do it for yourself and for your family. It's an appointment that can make an important difference in your health -- and theirs --- for years to come.
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