As part of the Canadian Association of Optometrists EyeWise campaign, awareness is being raised about the importance of vision health and what you can do to prevent vision loss. As a family physician, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends patients go for regular eye examinations with their optometrists, as your eye health is just as important as all other aspects of your health.
Why Are Eye Exams Important?
Sight is one of our most important senses. In fact, as much as 80% of what we perceives comes via our sense of sight. With proper eye care and by staying on top of your eye exams, as much as 75% of vision loss can be prevented – and it’s also easier to stay on top of certain eye diseases such as glaucoma and cataracts. In addition, going for regular, comprehensive eye exams can also detect potentially life threatening conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and even brain tumours.
What Are Cataracts?
More than 2.5 million Canadians are estimated to have cataracts and they are the most common cause of vision loss of people over the age of 40. Cataracts are painless, though other symptoms typically include clouding or blurred vision, difficulty with night vision, sensitivity to light, double vision, frequent changing of prescription lenses, and fading or yellowing of colours.
There are three different types of cataracts: Subcapsular, nuclear, and cortical. Subcapsular cataracts occur at the back of the lens and are common in individuals who take high doses of steroid medications or individuals who are diabetic; Nuclear cataracts are commonly associated with aging and form deep in the central zone of the lens – also known as the nucleus; while Cortical cataracts begin in the periphery of the lens and work towards the centre.
Aside from age, you are at risk of developing cataracts if you are frequently exposed to ultraviolet radiation (either from sunlight or other sources), have diabetes, hypertension, are obese, smoke, take hormone replacement therapy, have had previous eye injuries, previous eye surgery, or if there is a history of cataracts in your family.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve of the eye. Similar to cataracts, glaucoma also typically doesn’t show up until later in life – particularly in those who are elderly. Currently, an estimated 250,000 Canadians have glaucoma and it is the second most common cause of vision loss in seniors today – though with early detection and treatment, this can be prevented.
There are two types of glaucoma: Primary open-angle glaucoma and Angle-closure glaucoma. Primary open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common form, happens gradually as a result of the eye’s inability to drain fluid – similar to that of a clogged drain, for example. As a result, pressure builds in the eye which causes damage to the optic nerve. Primary open-angle glaucoma is generally painless, and you will not notice immediate changes with your sight in its early stages; Angle-closure glaucoma, on the other hand, is considered more severe and happens when the iris becomes too close to the drainage angle, which may wind up causing a blockage. When the drainage angle is blocked, pressure in the eye rises rapidly, which can result in severe eye pain, sudden blurred vision, headache, and even nausea. This is considered an eye emergency and you should see your ophthalmologist right away.