July 17th, 2018

To Your Health: The eyes have it

By Gillian Slade on September 18, 2017.

About 85 per cent of us have had eye-related issues in the last year but only 57 per cent consult an eye professional about those symptoms.

Wake up in the morning, look at your alarm clock, look outside the window, look at your partner, drive to work and so on without a thought about how wonderful it is to be able to see. We only realize how much we depend on sight when it is threatened.

Of those eye issues reported by 85 per cent, itchy, dry or teary eyes were experienced by 56 per cent, eye fatigue by 55 per cent, 39 per cent had difficulty seeing objects in the distance, 37 per cent had difficulty seeing things close-up, 12 per cent had double vision and so on.

Perhaps we are not as well informed about the risk of not seeking professional help. Not all eye issues are accompanied by pain or other symptoms. You can slowly lose your peripheral vision without even knowing that it is happening. You don’t know what you have lost until it is too late and the scary thing is it may be irreversible.

“Many people take their visual health for granted until they are affected by a serious problem,” said Dr. Diana Monea, a Calgary optometrist. “The pain, continuous aggravation, or blurry vision, will then lead people to consult as an emergency.”

We are constantly exposing our eyes to a range of dangers that could dramatically change our vision.

Exposure to the sun may seem more pronounced in summer but there are dangers in winter too. Monea says we should wear sunglasses all year round. UV and blue light are reflected from water, ice and snow. Ski without appropriate protection and you could end up with snow blindness. Monea says it is a “sunburn of the eye and the cornea” causing extreme pain because it affects the nerve endings of the cornea. Melanoma of the eye is more and more common too.

Particularly as we age we could be facing cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma. Regular eye exams help to document any changes and begin treatment in the early stages.

When it comes to the cost of corrective eye wear, that can be steep — particularly if you do not have private health coverage, Monea says it may come down to priorities. Considering how important our vision is, perhaps budgeting for corrective lenses should take precedence over eating out and other non essentials, said Monea.

Even though a regular eye exam is covered by the provincial government many people do not have that eye exam. This is particularly true in young people who may feel they do not have any vision issues. The fact is we should all consider an eye exam as necessary as a regular check-up at your dentist.

Only 15 per cent of children have a full eye exam before they start school, according to the results of the study by Essilor Canada used in this column. About 25 per cent of school-aged children have an undiagnosed vision or health issue.

Here’s to regular eye exams, clear vision and here’s To Your Health.

To Your Health is a weekly column by Gillian Slade, health reporter for the News, bringing you news on health issues and research from around the world. You can reach her by email or 403-528-8635.

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