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Photo of a young girl getting en eye testHealth matters
Look out!
Serious vision problems can creep up
slowly, says local ophthalmologist
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May/June 2019

Photo of Dr. Raageen KanjeeDr. Raageen Kanjee is a glaucoma specialist at Manitoba Clinic and a lecturer in the Department of Ophthalmology at the Max Rady College of Medicine. He took time to answer questions about the importance having a regular eye exam.

Q: Why is it important to get an eye exam regularly?

A: We sometimes forget the important role vision plays in our lives. As ophthalmologists, we see the whole gamut in our offices - from people with perfectly healthy eyes who might just need glasses, to those in need of vision-saving surgery. Some of the more serious eye conditions can creep up on you unawares, and the damage done can be irreversible. Without an eye exam, you'd never know there was a problem to begin with.

Q: How often should a person have their eyes checked?

A: We get asked this question a lot. There are quite a few factors that influence frequency, but the main ones are increasing age or having a history of serious eye conditions in either yourself or a family member. For instance, people under the age of 40 who are otherwise healthy should have a complete eye exam at least every 10 years, while healthy individuals over 65 should be examined every two years. Some people are at increased risk for having eye problems, for instance, if they have medical conditions such as diabetes, or if they have a family member with an eye condition such as glaucoma. These individuals should have their eyes examined much more frequently. For more information, visit the Canadian Ophthalmological Society website.

Q: Should you get your eyes checked more frequently if you wear glasses?

A: Most people who wear glasses will have otherwise completely healthy eyes, unless their prescription is particularly high. For these individuals, more frequent eye exams would be a good idea. If you wear contact lenses, yearly eye exams are very important. All too often we see people who have seriously damaged their eyes as a result of misusing their contact lenses.

Q: What are some of the more common warning signs that may suggest a problem?

A: The eye is a very complex organ and problems show up in many ways. Changes in the way the eye looks and feels can be an indicator that you should have your eyes looked at - for instance, if the eye becomes red and painful, if you have lots of discharge, or if the eyes start pointing in different directions. Changes in the way you see can also be a sign of something going awry - for instance, seeing new floaters, noticing missing or distorted parts of your vision, or seeing double. Any sudden change in how well you are able to see should be examined by an eye-care professional.

Q: Can UV rays damage your eyes? Should people wear sunglasses when they go outside?

A: UV rays are likely to cause damage to several important eye structures over long periods of time. It is thought that UV light is linked to conditions such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. We always advise people to wear UV-blocking sunglasses while outdoors. This includes wearing them during the winter and when it is cloudy, as clouds don't block out these harmful rays.

Q: There are a lot of different sunglasses out there now. Are certain types of sunglasses recommended over others?

A: As long as the sunglasses block UV light rays, this is a matter of preference.

Q: Is it possible to damage your eyes by spending too much time in front of a computer screen?

A: Computers and technology are already an integral part of our everyday lives. It's no surprise that people are spending more time working in front of them than ever before. At the moment, it's still unclear whether monitors themselves can cause any direct damage to our eyes, but people often complain of strain or eye fatigue after using them for extended periods of time.

When spending a lot of time engaged in near-work, it's important to take breaks at regular intervals to cut down on eye-strain. Everyone tends not to blink as much when reading from a computer screen, so people who experience dry eyes can consider using artificial tears from time to time.

Q: What can a person do to take care of their eyes?

A: The eyes are still connected to the rest of your body, so improving your general health can often help your eye health, too. Smoking has terrible effects on your body, and eyes are no different - there are quite a few eye conditions that are significantly worsened by smoking. Quitting is one of the best things anyone can do.

Eye safety is a pretty broad topic, but there are several activities during which people should routinely wear eye protection - things like mowing the lawn, using heavy machinery, and any sports where a puck or ball might hit your face.

For older individuals, a diet rich in green, leafy vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids probably helps eyes as well. It's never a bad idea to have a balanced and healthy diet, so this advice probably extends to younger individuals also.

Of course, the most important thing is not to ignore changes in your eyes or vision. If something doesn't seem normal, get it checked out.

This column was originally published in the July/August 2016 edition of Wave.