HOUGHTON - Whether you need prescription glasses or not, experts say an annual eye exam is a healthy habit to stick to.
"Even if you don't feel like you need glasses or anything like that, it's still a good idea to make sure that your eyes are healthy," Houghton Shopko Eyecare Center Optometrist Erin Schoone said. "The AOA (American Optometeric Association) recommends an exam before the age of one, around age two, before entering kindergarten, and then every year after that. It's really the best method."
During a regular exam, Schoone said they look to see if the patient is experiencing any refractive problems, if the eyes are near- or far-sighted, and they're looking at the overall health of the eyes.
Kelly Fosness/Daily Mining Gazette
Houghton Shopko Eyecare Center Optometrist Erin Schoone uses a phoropter.
"(For example), if you have dry eye issues, eye comfort issues, even binocular vision problems, like problems with seeing 3-D and things like that, which is important for kids," she said. "(We're looking for signs of) glaucoma, macular degeneration, and we can actually check for signs of high blood pressure and diabetes."
Conditions like high blood pressure can be detected by looking at the blood vessels in the eye, Schoone said.
"When you look inside and you can see how they cross over each other, you can see hardening of the arteries or effects of high blood pressure on the eyes," she said. "As you get older, in your 40s and 50s, we worry about high blood pressure."
As for children, concerns relate to proper prescriptions for their eyes.
"(We're looking at) are their eyes working together well as a team?" she said. "There's definitely differences in what we look for. As you get older, then we start worrying more about glaucoma and macular degeneration."
If a prescription is necessary, it's up to the patient whether they choose glasses or contacts, Schoone said, although lifestyle does factor in to what works best.
"There's no reason why younger kids can't be in contacts, other than personal responsibility; they have to be able to take care of them," she said. "Obviously as you get into the teen years, if you're in sports and things like that, contacts are better than having glasses on. It all depends on your choice."
Schoone said there are signs parents can watch for if they suspect their child may be experiencing vision problems. Headaches and difficulty reading can be signs, she said.
"Or, if they're having a hard time seeing things on TV or outside," Schoone said. "Usually the kids who are near-sighted can be caught easier because they're going to be the ones squinting."
In that case, Schoone said, an eye exam would be recommended.
"If they're not corrected to the fullest, it can cause problems in school," she said. "It has shown to cause problems with attention because if you can't see clearly, and kids don't realize if they're seeing clearly or not, it's going to be hard for them to function to their full potential in school."
With there being a high population of elderly in the local community, Schoone said she sees a number of patients with glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a condition that results from damage to the optic nerve in the eye, caused by high eye pressure.
"The high eye pressure puts pressure on the nerve so the blood doesn't get to the optic nerve as well," she said. "Because the blood is not getting there, just like if you starve your pinky (finger) of blood, it's not going to work and that leads to peripheral vision loss."
It can progress rapidly if it's not treated quickly, Schoone said, and that can lead to central vision loss and even complete loss of vision if it's left untreated.
Glaucoma can be detected during an eye exam even before any damage is done.
"If we see that you have high eye pressure, which is called intraocular pressure, there's other tests we can do," she said. "We can put you on certain eye drops that can help lower the eye pressure and bring it to a safe level where that nerve isn't going to be starving for blood and oxygen anymore."
What's scary about the condition, Schoone said, is oftentimes people don't feel high pressure in the eye until damage has occurred. They may, however, experience visual signs, such as halos around lights.
"That's why it's so important to have an exam every year," she said. "It can start creeping up and slowly increase."
As for general eye safety, Schoone recommends people who work around flying objects to wear eye protection. Those who work at a computer should also consider the 20-20-20 rule.
"Every 20 minutes you should take 20 seconds and look 20 feet away," she said. "When you stare at a computer screen, your eyes blink five times less than normal so they dry out and you get fatigue in your eyes. This will help reduce eye strain."
Outdoor eye protection is equally important, Schoone said, especially in the winter.
"The UV reflects off the snow, too, so we actually get a double dose of it when there actually is snow on the ground," she said. "Overall, it's just about protecting your eyes and treating them nice."
One final note, Schoone said, is to follow the doctor's orders.
"Don't over wear contacts," she said. "Depending on the brand, they're designed for a specific time of wear and depending on what your eye doctor prescribed for you, you should stick to that."