When thinking about eye care, it’s easy to go straight to issues with vision or the need for glasses or contact lenses, but there is much more to overall eye health.

Dr. Rachel Bostelman of Napoleon Family Vision explained there’s a common misconception that eye care equals vision care, but taking care of the eyes is more involved than making sure vision is 20-20.

“The overall eye health is so much more critical to monitor throughout our lifetime,” Bostelman said, adding the first eye wellness check should be done at 9 months old and then again at 3 years old. “Starting with infants is something that, for some reason, there’s not as much attention drawn to it as your normal pediatric well checks or even dental exams.”

Since early detection is important when it comes to eye conditions, any issues that arise can typically be more easily treated in children.

“Catching things early in a child is just incredibly valuable,” she said. “It’s so much easier to correct eye health issues or to prevent more difficulty in coming up with a resolution.”

The American Optometric Association standard for eye exams is they should be done every year between the ages of 3-18 and then every two years between ages 18-60. However, those who wear contact lenses should have an exam every year and some who wear glasses may also be recommended for an annual visit. After 60 years, the exams should be done once a year.

Eye issues such as dry eye syndrome can affect overall eye health and quality of life, while other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes also cause harm to the eyes and needs to be monitored closely.

“In our culture of obesity and diabetes is an epidemic, having that interconnected relationship with their primary care doctor and making sure the eye is recognized as critical and well-cared for,” Bostelman said. “There’s too many people in denial of how that cumulative effect of diabetes will affect their vision over time.”

For diseases specific to the eyes such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration, the risk increases as people age.

“Age is the biggest risk factor for every eye disease,” Bostelman said. “Overall good systemic health will help you rebound from eye diseases, but (wearing) sunglasses and overall systemic health are the only recommendations for prevention.”

During an eye exam, Bostelman noted the doctor is measuring vision, but also examining the health of the eye, which can detect changes which may otherwise go undetected.

“Waiting for your eyes to hurt is not a good clue to get your eyes checked,” she said. “If you’re at the level of eye pain, it’s really out of control.”

While the routine exams are recommended, symptoms such as blurry vision, seeing flashing or floaters and eye fatigue and headaches can indicate the need to set up an appointment.

“Eighty percent of people value vision as their most important sense,” Bostelman said. “So when we think of preventative care for eye health, most of us should really value taking care of that sense and having that contribute to the greatest quality of life.”

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