Advances in eye health and technology can give us a look into our health! Researchers are working on newer ways of protecting your eyes to help people with vision loss and catch diseases earlier.
What Doctors See Now
Eye exams allow eye care professionals to monitor your eyes for common vision problems and signs of disease. Annual eye exams are very important for this reason. Since there isn’t early diagnostic testing for most eye diseases, its important to detect the warning signs early!
Comprehensive exams will include eye dilation. This allows the doctor to see inside the eye. Special magnifying lenses are used to examine the tissues at the back of the eye. These tissues include the retina (light-sensitive tissue), the macula (central part of the retina for sharp vision), and the optic nerve (carries visual messages from the eye to the brain). Any damage to these areas may signs of disease.
Eye exams may reveal health problems like, high blood pressure, , sexually transmitted diseases, and cancers. Eye doctors often detect diabetes by observing damage to the retina and blood vessels in the eye. The disease may show up in eye tissue before a blood glucose (sugar) test reveals it. Early detection can prevent not only vision loss but other serious complications.
Future eye health practitioners will have more powerful imaging tools than anything we have now. New tools make it easier to catch disease even earlier.
Diseases like glaucoma that causes blindness by damaging nerve cells at the back of the eye. Cells that get damaged by glaucoma are hard to see in the early stages of the disease. Our current technology reveals that thousands of cells must die before detection occurs. New methods would allow doctors to see the damage much earlier, thus preventing or curtailing vision loss.
Eye imaging technologies are developed to better detect age-related macular degeneration (AMD) since it is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness nationwide among people age 50 and older. A current NIH-led study is tracking retinal degeneration in 500 people over five years to look for early signs of the condition.
Using a high-resolution imaging technique called spectral domain optical coherence tomography or SD-OCT, they visualize different sections of the retina. SD-OCT is sensitive enough to detect very small changes that other images of the eye cannot see! Another new imaging technology allows scientists to track a specific protein in the eye. This approach may help doctors with early detection of cataracts and presbyopia..
Other research groups are studying ways to treat cataracts with a chemical that could potentially be used in eye drops to reverse cataracts, the number one cause of blindness worldwide.
New technologies may ultimately help people with low vision or blindness to get around more easily. A NIH-funded eye doctor recently improved a miniature telescope technology. Mounted on regular eyeglasses, its called Ocutech bioptic telescopes. These devices help people with low vision see better while driving, giving them a chance to stay behind the wheel.
Another scientist developed a partially robotic cane that can detect a person’s surroundings. The cane has a camera to “see” what’s nearby. The motorized roller tip then moves the cane toward a desired location, acting as a guide for the person to follow. Sound can also act as a guide for those with low vision. A new smartphone app gives sound prompts to help visually impaired people identify the safest crossing location and stay within a crosswalk.
These and other new technologies are helping people with vision problems. While technologies can help keep your eyes healthy, there’s a lot you can do, too! Simple actions like quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet full of dark leafy green vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight can help. Knowing your families eye healthy history since certain diseases run in families. And be sure to wear sunglasses when you are outside.
Most Importantly, don’t forget to get a regular eye exam, protecting your eyes, to catch issues early. If your eye care professional finds a problem early, often there are things you can do to keep your good vision.
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