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Avoiding common eye problems
Daily eye care is important for everyone


September 2013

Burning itchy eyes, blurry vision, redness ó these are some of the eye problems we all get, particularly if we use computers and high-tech gadgets. "Eye problems are more common now than ever because of our lifestyle," says Dr. John Conto of the Eye Institute at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "I tell patients for every 25 minutes of close computer work, they should take 15 minutes off, if possible. Break the cycle and allow the eyes to refocus."

Another common problem is dry eyes, which can occur when we focus or concentrate too long and our blink rate decreases, Conto says. "Dry eyes can also be caused by some medications and hormonal conditions," he adds.

Puffy and itchy eyes are often the result of allergies. Itís tempting to use over-the-counter eye drops to relieve the problem, but be careful, says Conto. "Those drops can be habit-forming. Donít become a Visine junkie."

Sun worshippers or those who work outdoors also risk eye disease. "Ultraviolet rays can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration, two eye diseases developed later in life," says optometrist Brian McGinley of Optix on Downer. "Itís smart to be aware of any changes in your vision, and donít ignore things like a sudden onset of floaters, flashes of light, change in pupil size, transient vision loss and chronic red eyes," he warns.

All of these symptoms could be relatively harmless, but they might also indicate a serious problem. "Worst case scenario, some of these conditions can mean a detached retina. When eye problems happen, I recommend a thorough eye examination done by someone who is trained to look for problems with the retina," McGinley says. Better yet, donít wait for a problem, he says. "Make eye care a part of daily life."

Google-y eyes

If your arms are getting tired from lugging around a laptop, tablet and smartphone, you will be glad to know youíll soon be able to wear your computer right on your face. Search engine giant Google Inc. has developed eye glasses that incorporate a stamp-sized display mounted on the left side of a pair of eyeglass frames. In an effort to compete with its rivals, Google is promoting its eyewear while Apple and Samsung Electronics work on wristwatch -type devices. Google Glass is designed to record video, access messages and retrieve information from the Web. The glasses display information in a smartphone-like hands-free format that can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands. A touch pad is located on the side of Google Glass, allowing users to control the device by swiping through a timeline interface displayed on the screen.

Google Glass frames do not yet come with lenses fitted to them, but Google is considering partnerships with sunglass companies such as Ray-Ban. Itís worth noting that the Explorer Edition cannot be used by people who wear prescription glasses, but the company has stated that it will eventually work with frames and lenses that match the wearerís prescription. Currently, Google has distributed the device to a limited set of early users and developers, and expects to make it available more widely later this year.

Itís still a mystery whether Google glasses may be harmful to the wearerís eyesight.

Diabetic eye disease affects millions

"Of the nearly 26 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes, up to 45 percent have some degree of diabetic retinopathy ó damage to the sensitive retina in the back of the eye ó which can lead to vision loss and blindness," according to Dr. Daniel Ferguson, a partner at Eye Care Specialists, a local ophthalmology practice that specializes in the care of diabetic patients. "For some people, when a routine vision check-up shows signs of retinopathy, it is their first clue that they even have diabetes."

With diabetes, high blood sugar levels can weaken blood vessels in the eye, causing them to swell and leak fluid. Blood sugar fluctuations can also trigger the growth of abnormal, fragile new blood vessels on the retina, which can also leak blood. Both of these types of retinal blood vessel damage or retinopathy can blur vision and lead to permanent sight impairment. Without treatment, loss of vision can occur.

Lose the glasses with Lasik

For many patients, there are no symptoms of retinopathy. "The changes in vision occur so gradually that they donít notice or take action. Thatís why it is crucial for diabetics to schedule yearly dilated eye exams. Diabetic eye disease can only be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam," says Dr. Daniel Paskowitz, an eye surgeon with Eye Care Specialists. "Diabetes-related sight loss is often preventable with yearly exams and early intervention."

For many people, laser eye surgery works wonders to correct their vision so they no longer need glasses or contact lenses. Lasers reshape the cornea, the clear front part of the eye, changing the eyeís focusing power. There are different types of laser eye surgery. LASIK ó laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis ó is one of the most common. Many patients who have LASIK end up with 20/20 vision. But, like all medical procedures, it has possible risks and benefits.

Can everyone have LASIK? "There must be adequate corneal thickness and a normal shape to the cornea," says Dr. Jason Edmonds, a surgeon with Milwaukee Eye Care Associates. "We also look at a personís career. People who have a high risk of injury to their eyes such as police officers, athletes and those who serve in the military are not good candidates," he says. At the same time, older people who often suffer from dry eyes may not be good candidates, nor are those under the age of 20 whose eyes arenít done developing.

After youíve had laser eye surgery, you might need a touch-up. "The cornea changes over time. In five to 10 years up to 18 percent of people need to have more surgery," Edmonds says. "Overall, itís a very safe procedure that offers excellent benefits."


This story ran in the September 2013 issue of: