In between dead grass and snow puddles, we’ll soon glimpse the first signs of spring: Butter-colored daffodils, perking their petals and welcoming us to sunnier times. These flowers are such an inspiring sight to see that we’ll likely forget the two eyes that actually, well, saw it. What if your eyes were sick, and you couldn’t see the flowers, or a Picasso painting, or your own kid? With such a huge role in our lives, you’d think our two best friends would be Right Eye and Left Eye, who we handle with extreme care. But instead, we often neglect our eyes by putting off annual examinations, exposing them to ultraviolet rays, and perhaps sticking them in dirty, worn-out contact lenses.
Show your eyes some love, so you can continue seeing daffodils on your 100th birthday. With the help of Ranjeet Bajwa, an optometrist with the California Optometric Association, we’ve dispelled some common myths about eye health.
“I only need to visit the optometrist if something seems wrong.” Nope. See an optometrist annually, even if your eyes feel fine. And if you have a family history of eye disease, diabetes, or poor health, you may need to visit more frequently.
Prescriptions change. Your contacts or glasses may seem to work, but a stronger pair may suit you even better. And if you’re losing vision in your right eye, it would take a while to notice because your left eye will compensate.
Plus, “There are lots of quiet diseases like glaucoma that people aren’t aware of,” Bajwa says. Although glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States, according to the American Optometric Association, many people don’t even know they have it. That’s because the most common type develops slowly, usually without obvious symptoms, and first attacks side vision. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek help until they’ve already lost a noticeable amount of their vision, and at that point, what they’ve lost cannot be restored, according to the AOA.
Cue the value of annual check-ups, when an optometrist can spot and diagnose glaucoma and other diseases early, and assign treatment before the conditions worsen.
A look inside your eye can also offer insight to your overall health, says Bajwa. Diseases like diabetes, for example, can be discovered in an eye exam.
“My vision is perfect, so there’s no need to see the optometrist.” Everyone needs annual exams. For one thing, your vision may not be as great as you think. Good for you if a doctor declared you have 20/20 vision in 1999. But just like your waistline, blood pressure level, and favorite TV shows have probably changed since then, your vision may have too. And you wouldn’t even notice because your eyes compensate for each other, making for a subtle change over time.
And again, an eye exam can detect eye diseases that wouldn’t even make it onto your radar before it’s too late, as well as other overall health issues.
“I only need to worry about UV rays in the summer sun.” Yes, of course we’re most conscious of harmful UV rays in the 90-degree days of August—hence the likely uptick in sales of sunscreen and floppy beach hats. But Bajwa says the rays are a factor in all seasons, so we must gear up accordingly. Hats and visors are key, as well as sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Be mindful of little UV stickers on $10 drug store shades, he says, because they’re not always accurate. “There’s marketing for UV blocking, and then there’s the real kind,” he says, pointing out that the optometrist’s office will always sell the “real kind.”
And while shelling out for real protection may cost a bit more, Bajwa believes it’s worth it. “UV rays are so damaging to all parts of the eye … it can accelerate cataracts and macular degeneration.” You may recognize folks with cataracts by the cloudy lenses of their eyes, who often face hazy vision and other problems, according to AOA. The nearly 2 million people with age-related macular degeneration face vision impairment, too.
“I’ll just wear these contact lenses until they start to hurt.” Many contact wearers tend to “abuse” their lenses, Bajwa says, often by wearing them for too long. Chances are, when your doctor tells you to change your lenses, say, every 10 days, she’s not simultaneously telling you in a code of winks and nods that she really means “every month or until they make your eyes red.”
Your contact prescription is just that—a prescription, not advice. If your doctor wrote a prescription for you to take blood pressure medicine once a day, would you roll your eyes and take it only once a month, or when your heart started feeling funny? Hopefully not, so treat the optometrist with the same respect and replace contacts as often as she says. Depending on the contacts, that could be once a day, once a week, or longer. Bajwa says the daily disposable kind are “the simplest, healthiest option.”