Q&A: The need for eye tests

Eye tests are not just about improving vision, but also a barometer for overall health. Yvonne Gordon asks optometrist Omar Hassan about maintaining eye health, and the role of eye tests in detecting and preventing disease

Q. Why is it important for the public to be aware of the importance of eye tests?

A. Eye tests should form part of an individual’s routine health check. We all value our sight yet few of us have our eyes examined regularly. Eye tests are the most important preventative measure of detecting vision issues early on, which means a greater chance of successful treatment. Without regular eye tests, eye conditions, which could be easily and simply managed, could go unnoticed.

Q. What eye-conditions can be detected and managed through eye tests?

A. Most eye conditions can be effectively managed through early detection and the use of glasses or contact lenses. If a young child has poor vision, the eye may not develop properly. So it’s vital that children under eight have their eyes examined regularly and corrected for any poor vision.

Glaucoma – loss of peripheral vision – and age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – loss of the field of central vision – both have a hereditary component and are more prevalent in certain groups and the elderly. Prolonged use of computer screens can cause dry eyes treatable by supplements along with regular screen breaks. Eye drops are given for glaucoma, injections for wet AMD and supplements can slow down progression. An ophthalmologist can perform routine cataract surgery.

The eye is often regarded as a window into an individual’s general health as it is an organ where blood vessels can be viewed without invasive procedures

Q. What are some of the ways that eyes change with age?

A. It is perfectly normal for eyes to change with age, such as when a child becomes more shortsighted or an adult finds close-up reading harder. Usually this has no impact on general health. But any effect these conditions may have on vision can largely be managed by wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Q. What about conditions elsewhere in the body?

A. The eye is often regarded as a window into an individual’s general health as it is an organ where blood vessels can be viewed without invasive procedures. Assessment can highlight problems with blood pressure, diabetes and potential heart issues, as well as indicating brain abnormalities and certain cancers.

Q. What can the latest eye technology pick up regarding eye health?

A. Increasing use of the fundus camera and a non-invasive 3D imaging test, known as optical coherence tomography (OCT), mean optometrists can fine-tune detection of certain eye conditions. Historically, these were picked up through physical assessment of the retina which is still very important. But new instruments enable scans behind the visible rear eye giving an even more thorough assessment of potential problems.

Q. How can we maintain eye health in daily life?

A. Good diet always helps. Evidence suggests we can maintain healthy eyes by eating walnuts, seeds and fish, such as salmon or sardines rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Also green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and kale, which contain eye-enhancing carotenoids, may delay the onset of some eye conditions. Avoid smoking which is proven to cause the eye to deteriorate more rapidly.

And finally…
The one thing we should do is have regular eye tests whether or not we are having vision problems. No one needs to be afraid of having an eye test. They are painless and only take 20 to 30 minutes every two years, unless advised otherwise by your optometrist. Always follow professional eyecare advice and never take your vision for granted.