Teach the wisdom of regular eye exams

Vision month focuses on ways to save sight

Good vision is important throughout a lifetime. That is why the St. Louis-based American Optometric Association (AOA) has designated March as "Save Your Vision Month."

"It is important for children to have good vision because they are learning to read; but as they get older, they are reading to learn," says Susan Thomas, AOA public relations manager.

The goal of the national health observance is to educate the public about having regular eye exams from an eye care professional. The AOA recommends that adults ages 18-40 have their eyes checked every two to three years; adults ages 41-60 every two years; and those ages 61 and older have an annual exam.

However, the frequency of eye exams depends on a person’s medical and family history. People who have diabetes or a family history of the disease may need annual eye exams. Also, people who have high blood pressure may need to be seen more frequently.

Everyone should know his or her family history and provide that information to the eye care professional doing the exam, says Thomas. This information often will help determine how often a patient needs to be seen and what eye problems the professional might need to watch for.

For example, if a parent or sibling has glaucoma, a person is at a higher risk for the eye disease. This disease is an abnormal condition of high pressure within an eye caused by a blocking of the normal flow of the watery fluid in the space between the cornea and lens of the eye. It can damage the optic nerve.

Approximately 2 million people have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and about 2 million more don’t know they have it, Thomas reports. Once a person begins to show symptoms there is already some vision loss. These symptoms might include the gradual loss of side vision, blurred vision, a dull pain in the eye, halos around lights, and blind spots in the center of the field of vision. Regular eye exams will catch the disease early before symptoms occur.

Children also need regular eye exams. The AOA recommends that children have their first eye assessment at 6 months of age, followed by an eye exam when they are 3 years old and one just before a child enters first grade.

"It is a misconception that if a child can’t speak or doesn’t know their alphabet, an eye doctor can’t tell if there is a problem. There is a lot a doctor can tell by looking at a baby’s eyes; and for a young child, there are charts that have symbols such as trains and houses," says Thomas.

After entering school, children should have regular eye exams every two years. While schools often schedule vision screenings for students, these basically are for visual acuity and don’t catch a lot of eye problems, she notes. It’s important to know if children’s eyes are working together, if they can track on a page, and if they can see things that are close up.

Preventing vision loss

In addition to regular eye exams, people need to be aware of eye safety measures that can protect their eyes from injury. Around July fourth, fireworks cause many eye injuries — not only to the handler, but also to bystanders watching home fireworks displays.

Anyone involved in a hazardous activity whether in their occupation or in recreational activities needs to use the safety equipment designed specifically for the sport, job, or recreational pursuit.

Good nutrition also is an important element in preventing vision loss. According to the AOA, studies have suggested that six nutrients are associated with maintaining eye health. They include antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.

To help patient educators teach patients how to prevent vision loss, educational materials are available on the AOA web site at www.aoa.org. The information can be downloaded and distributed to consumers either as handouts or included in newsletters, says Thomas.

As "Save Your Vision Month" approaches, a press kit is created and all inserts also are placed on the web site for easy access and use, she says.

Through health observances and other educational activities, the message about the importance of scheduling regular eye exams seems to be getting out to the public. In a consumer survey conducted in 2000, only 6% of those participating said that they had an eye exam every four or more years. About 28% indicated that they saw their eye care professional every two to three years, and about 51% had an annual eye exam.

"When people have regular eye exams and provide their eye care professional with their family history they have a leg up on prevention or early detection of some eye diseases," says Thomas.

[Editor’s note: If you have tailored community education to health observance months, weeks, or days, please contact Susan Cort Johnson, editor of Patient Education Management by e-mail at suscortjohn@onemain.com or by telephone (530) 256-2749. Please state the subject matter on your e-mail: Health Observance Education. Patient Education Management will feature educational outreach efforts tied to health observances in future issues.]


For more information about "Save Your Vision Month," contact:

Susan Thomas, Public Relations Manager, Communications Group, American Optometric Association, 243 N. Lindbergh Blvd. St. Louis, MO 63141. Telephone: (314) 991-4100. E-mail: SLThomas@aoa.org. Web site: www.aoa.org.