Starting early

A baby between the ages of six and nine months is ready for his or her first eye exam, according to Dr. Surjinder Sahota, a doctor of optometry in Abbotsford, B.C. Optometrists can detect abnormalities that may affect development.

After that, a child from the ages of two and five is ready to start annual exams. “The sooner vision problems are caught, the better we are able to treat it,” she says. “It ensures they have good vision and are able to do well in school.” An optometrist will look for conditions like amblyopia (commonly known as ‘lazy eye’) or strabismus (or crossed eyes) that could impair learning.

The dangers of dry eye

Those who have dry eye can experience inflammation, pain, and possibly permanent loss of vision—if left untreated. This condition, sometimes called keratoconjunctivitis (KCS), occurs when eyes do not produce tears adequately or lack the necessary consistency. As a result, the health of the cornea can be compromised. An anti-inflammatory drug (cyclosporine), artificial tears (purchased over-the-counter), omega-3-fatty acid supplements or a minor medical procedure which stops tears from draining from the eye, may be recommended options.

"Optometrists are now able to detect issues with better accuracy, thanks to sophisticated medical imaging."

Common eye problems

“Many people will develop cataracts at some point in their lives,” says Dr. Sahota. Currently more than 2.5 million Canadians have them. Especially with aging, the lens inside the eye that is normally clear can become cloudy and opaque. This blocks light from reaching the retina, resulting in vision problems. The good news is that cataract surgery is very effective with an estimated 95 percent of patients experiencing improvement.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the macula, the central part of the retina that allows us to read, drive and recognize faces. For adults over the age of 55, it is the primary cause of blindness, making early detection crucial. There is no cure for AMD, but progression can be delayed with regular eye exercises, vitamins and lifestyle modifications (like quitting smoking).

All ages are susceptible to damages from the sun, which is why it is important to protect eyes with sunglasses to prevent damage from UV rays, a leading factor in the acceleration of AMD and cataract development.

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve inside the eyes, responsible for relaying messages to the brain. In its initial stages, there are no symptoms. Over time, a loss of peripheral vision may result. Once damage is done, it cannot be reversed and can lead to blindness. An optometrist can catch glaucoma during an eye exam and discuss treatment options.

Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited degenerative disease causing severe vision impairment. Early symptoms may include decreased night vision, loss of peripheral vision, and photophobia (an intolerance of glare). While there’s no cure, research is ongoing, assessing the effectiveness of vitamin E and DNA testing.

While optometrists suggest an eye exam every one to two years for most people, those with diabetes should stick to annual checkups in order to detect changes, like a weakening of blood vessels, connected to diabetic retinopathy, which left untreated, can cause blindness.

Advances in technology

Optometrists are now able to detect issues with better accuracy, thanks to sophisticated medical imaging. It’s a powerful tool for being able to detect problems sooner. An optical coherence tomography (OCT) machine, for example, provides a clearer, more detailed look at what’s happening in all the layers of the retina.

Spotting the signs of disease in their infancy ensures that patients get appropriate treatment earlier, and most importantly, maintain healthy vision for a lifetime.