6 things people with vision loss should know about going to the eye doctor

About 38 million Americans have eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, age-related macular degeneration and cataracts – common causes of vision loss, low vision and blindness. As Baby Boomers age, the numbers are expected to double in the near future.

Individuals with low or no vision sometimes feel they have reached the end of the road with their vision problem because their sight cannot be restored, but it is essential that they continue to see an eye doctor regularly and that they are informed advocates for their own eye health.

Summerfield 3 blOn July 23, ophthalmologist Michael Summerfield spoke at “Eye Care is for Everyone,” a free public event at the Seabury Resources for Aging Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Washington, D.C. He encouraged attendees, many of whom live with impaired or no vision, to continue to visit an ophthalmologist regularly for six important reasons:

1)      All vision is worth saving

Individuals living with limited vision learn to make use of what sight they have, and even a very small amount of sight is worth a lot. Even if it isn’t possible to improve visual acuity or regain sight, if that small amount of vision can be maintained, it can still be useful vision. Continual care is essential to maintaining small amounts of vision that can make a tremendous difference in the life of the patient.

2)      Other diseases can be picked up through eye exams

Health conditions that have nothing to do with vision can often be detected through eye exams with an ophthalmologist. Small changes in the blood vessels in the eyes can help doctors detect even subtle forms of hypertension; inflammation in the eye can be evidence of systemic inflammation conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and sarcoidosis; and evidence of diabetic retinopathy can be an early indicator that a patient has diabetes.

3)      Continual eye care can be vital for maintaining comfort

Even if a doctor can’t bring back vision, there are still things he or she can do to keep the eyes comfortable. When an eye doesn’t see anymore, it can experience a chronic, aching pain that the patient might assume is unavoidable. Other times, the ocular surface of the eye may become dry, scratchy and irritated. Pain and discomfort can be alleviated by ophthalmologists with the right treatment.

4)      Eye doctors can help with patients’ cosmetic goals

It’s common for eye diseases and conditions that impair vision to affect the appearance of the eyes, and it’s not superficial or vain for a patient to want to address this. Patients shouldn’t be afraid to ask their eye doctor about their personal cosmetic goals with their eyes, because often there is something doctors can do to help.

5)      New research and therapies are constantly being conducted

The amount of new information that comes out about eye diseases on a regular basis is growing exponentially. New technologies, assistive devices and therapies are continually being created and tested. A patient’s eye doctor might know something now that didn’t exist a year ago that can improve the patient’s life.

6)      Patients can teach their doctors

Patients with vision loss have unique insight into the personal experience of living with low or no vision. In most cases, eye doctors haven’t experienced these conditions themselves. When patients share this information with their ophthalmologists, it creates a richer and more complete understanding of the experience of the condition that doctors may be able to use to help other patients.

Michael Summerfield, M.D., is the director of the MedStar Georgetown University / MedStar Washington Hospital Center Ophthalmology Residency Program.

“Eye Care is for Everyone” was co-sponsored by Seabury Resources for Aging, the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington (POB), the DC Office on Aging and MedStar Health.

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8 Responses to 6 things people with vision loss should know about going to the eye doctor

  1. Gregory Willard says:

    My grandma started to lose her vision, and I was always curious about how she could help it. I had no idea that other diseases can be picked up through eye exams. I always assumed that the doctor could only pick up on the vision. Thanks for the information.

  2. Jorge McMillan says:

    I agree with the point you make about all vision is worth saving. It’s like you mentioned, those with limited vision learn to make use of what they have left and the smallest light is worth a lot. I’m grateful that there are eye doctors that are dedicated to making this happen for people with vision loss.

  3. Aria Wellington says:

    I love that you say that all vision is worth saving. My mom has an eye disease called Keratoconus that causes her corneas to flatten. It gets worse and worse over time but finding the right prescription is really helpful. We are currently looking for a new optometrist to go to so we will have to do some research. Her vision is definitely worth saving!

  4. Kiara Woodsland says:

    My vision has gotten significantly worse and I would really like to get it back to the way it was. I can barely look across the room and know what’s on the other side. Like said, I don’t know how it could get much worse. I agree with you, though, all vision is worth saving.

  5. Jason says:

    I especially emphasize on #2 and how it can unveil other diseases. Good stuff!

  6. Aaron Kriegerson says:

    Thanks for your article about vision loss. You make a great point about trying to save and retain any vision that an individual may still have. We live in a very visual world. Maintaining what vision an individual has can help maintain their independence and quality of life. It’s is important to take care of your eyes, and seeing your optometrist on a regular basis can help you maintain your sight.

  7. Anita Mas says:

    You can detect other diseases through an eye exam? That could be helpful. I’ve had yearly eye exams ever since I got my first pair of glasses at age ten. It’s nice to know that my health is being monitored in multiple ways.

  8. DoloresB says:

    I don’t think people understand number two. Eye exams can help catch diseases related with vision early on, which might help them get treated before they are a problem. It’s good to have a regular eye exam, because then you can catch potential problems.

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