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Proper eye care is vital

Written by Allison Cooper

Good visual function has a direct positive impact on our ability to perform daily activities and contribute to society and the economy.

“It also affects children's ability to learn and grow at school and our fundamental ability to look after ourselves in general,” says Doctor Pauline Lam, an ophthalmologist which is a specialist eye doctor at the Eerste River Hospital eye clinic at the Western Cape Department of Health.

In general, an optometrist is a good first choice for people with visual complaints, as they may have a refractive error such as myopia (short-sightedness) that may require glasses, says Dr Lam. She explains that the optometrist will perform some tests, including a test for refraction and issue a pair of glasses for the patient, if needed.

“Optometrists also perform screening tests for patients with glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetes mellitus, which is especially associated with a high incidence of eye disease.”

How often a person should visit an optometrist depends on the nature of their condition, but usually once a year if they just have a refractive error. If the optometrist finds any problems, they will refer the patient to an ophthalmologist.

Avoid eye damage

To avoid eye damage from the sun it’s important to wear sunglasses, with special UVAB protection, or polarised sunglasses before spending hours outdoors. A hat or a cap can also shield the eyes from direct sunlight.

The claim that the use of device screens can damage the eyes has not been substantiated, says Dr Lam. “We know that constantly staring at a computer or smartphone screen can cause digital eye strain, an intermittent discomfort, blurriness and burning sensation and dryness in the eyes.”

If this happens, try to limit its use. Take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes and focus on something far away.

Common eye problems

In addition to trauma-related eye injuries, some of the common eye problems include refractive errors (short-sightedness and long-sightedness, astigmatism), dry eyes and allergic eye diseases.

“Common treatable, but irreversible, eye problems include glaucoma (open angle and closed angle), advanced diabetic eye disease and late age-related macular degeneration (wet form),” says Dr Lam.

“Unfortunately, with glaucoma (open angle) and early diabetic retinopathy, patients are frequently unaware that they have the condition as in the early stages the vision is not affected and there is no pain. That’s why it’s important for diabetic patients and those with a family history of glaucoma to visit an optometrist for regular screening,” says Dr Lam