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Health Talk 

Optometrist Dr. Ted Brown, owner of Uptown Eyecare (3640 Magazine St., 899-3937), provides insight about how to protect your eyes and improve your vision.

Q: What is the most important thing people need to do to maintain healthy eyes?
A: An annual eye exam. It's very important to diagnose any sort of problems early, before they get to the point where they can't be treated or there is damage to the eye, especially in the case of diabetes and high blood pressure.

Q: Do you sometimes discover those or other conditions people don't already know they have?

A: Yes, especially diabetes. Sometimes it is first diagnosed by a routine eye exam. You can have fluctuations (in vision) just from your blood sugar going up and down. And there are other things. My wife, for example, was suffering chronic headaches and just needed a prescription for glasses. Even though you have perfect vision, it doesn't mean you don't need glasses to relieve strain on your eyes. Some people see fine most of the time but strain to see up close and it gives them headaches.

Q: Can getting the wrong prescription for glasses be as damaging as not getting a prescription at all?

A: That's a difficult question. It can be damaging, and wearing an out-of-date prescription when your eyes have changed can put you in compromising positions, especially when you're doing things like driving at night. If you don't have good vision in both eyes at the same time, your depth perception is off and, therefore, you could misjudge a distance. That's just one example.

Q: When should children begin to visit an optometrist as opposed to just taking the eye-chart test at school?
A: It's always a good idea to get a child's eyes examined before they start school. Although they can't read letters, we have other charts we can use with symbols or lines to test their vision. You can find out for the first time that a child needs (vision) correction. They don't always know they aren't seeing clearly, because they are used to seeing blurry. If you leave a child's vision uncorrected, it can lead to permanent vision loss.

Q: Besides diabetes and high blood pressure, what other conditions can you detect through a thorough eye exam?
A: There are subtle, obscure things, but for the most part diabetes and high blood pressure, cataracts and glaucoma. Those are major eye conditions that we check for during an exam.

Q: How do you determine whether someone is better off with glasses or contact lenses and is one better than the other?
A: Usually, you can fit anybody with glasses. Some people can't wear contacts because of their prescription or a problem with their eyes, such as dry eyes. There are a few limitations to wearing contacts. If you have astigmatism -- which just means you have different prescriptions in different parts of the same eye -- you can grind different prescriptions into different parts of a glasses lens, but it's harder in contact lenses. There is a new contact lens, toric lenses, where they can put different prescriptions in different parts of the contact. They used to not have those.

Q: What about the colored contact lenses that are strictly cosmetic? Are those safe?
A: They're safe as long as you have an annual eye exam to see that your eye is healthy and able to wear a contact. With kids, I usually recommend going with a disposable contact, either one that you switch daily or on a weekly basis so either I or the parent know they always have a clean contact. If you switch that often, they don't have much of a chance to become dirty. Never try someone else's contact on, because eye diseases can be passed along that way.

Q: What are the most common eye diseases or conditions?

A: Glaucoma and cataracts are two big ones. Macular degeneration is another; you have a higher probability of those in older people.

Q: Do you see a lot of sports injuries to the eye?
A: I see quite a few. Usually they can be treated with just some eye medications and close monitoring. Most commonly you see a corneal abrasion from a finger in the eye, an abraded surface of the cornea, and those can easily be treated with just eye medications. It's not something you want to leave untreated, because you can easily get an infection that can permanently compromise your vision.

Q: How many people do you outfit who are "legally blind" and what do you do for them?

A: There's a lot of confusion about that because legally blind means that your best corrected vision with glasses or contacts is worse than 24/100. You must treat them as best you can and treat any underlying diseases or problems. There are different agencies, like Lighthouse for the Blind, that help people cope with severe vision losses in their daily lives.

Q: What's different about wearing glasses today as opposed to years past?

A: There are so many designers from Gucci to Ralph Lauren and others who make glasses; there are more choices, and it's more fun. It's a fashion accessory. It's not just something you have to wear. There are a lot of fun styles and thinner lenses that make glasses look better and anti-reflective coatings that help reduce glare.

Q: Should we all be wearing sunglasses as a habit?
A: Sunglasses and any glasses with UV protection are going to help protect against cataracts in later life. Cataracts are caused largely by UV exposure.
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