Your vision plays an important role in your everyday experiences from the moment you wake up to going to work, playing with your children and caring for loved ones. Despite this vitalness, many people delay a visit to an optometrist or rely on online screenings, which seldom provide accurate, personalized evaluations, to maintain their eye health.
“It’s important to prioritize eye health by seeing a doctor of optometry in person annually,” said American Optometric Association (AOA) President Dr. Robert Layman. “These professionals are uniquely positioned and qualified to serve as frontline providers in primary eye care for the vast majority of Americans and help ensure they can best experience the world around them through their sight and overall well-being.”
Consider the Mitchell family, who met Dr. Cynthia Baker to get their son Emory’s eyes checked while he was an infant. At first glance, Mitchell’s eyes appeared normal until Dr. Baker was able to conduct a comprehensive eye exam where she discovered a serious issue.
Mitchell had congenital cataracts, a condition in which you’re missing the lens of one or both of your eyes. Due to the severity of Mitchell’s vision issue, he had his first cataract surgery just days after his initial diagnosis from Dr. Baker. He then relied on high-powered contact lenses and glasses to help him see.
When he got older, Mitchell and his parents decided to explore implant surgery. In October 2018, Mitchell was able to have intraocular lens surgeries that were successful. This type of implant uses a tiny, artificial lens that replaces the eye’s natural lens during cataract surgery. Today, Mitchell sees 20/40 without glasses. If left undiagnosed, Mitchell’s condition could have led to other eye problems such as nystagmus, strabismus and inability to fix a gaze upon objects which can profoundly impact learning abilities and personality.
An in-person, comprehensive eye exam with a doctor of optometry is the medically recognized standard to assure precise and healthy vision, and to identify and treat diseases, such as glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness. In addition, eye exams safeguard overall health by enabling the doctor to detect more than 270 serious health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases and cancers.
“The number of times that I’ve caught a pituitary tumor or found out that one of my patients probably had a stroke before they knew they had a stroke — it just happens all the time. And an online eye exam misses that,” said Dr. Mathew Jones about the potentially lifesaving benefits of regularly seeing an optometrist.
Dr. Jones builds trust with his patients and prides himself on being connected to the communities he serves in Arkansas. That trust helped him stay connected to long-time patient Don Harris, who after having a debilitating stroke, could no longer walk to the clinic or get to the pharmacy for eye drops to manage his eye pressure condition. Dr. Jones decided to take action and picked Harris up to ensure he attended his appointment.
After considering his unique situation, Dr. Jones recommended a selective laser trabeculoplasty procedure that’s used to lower eye pressure in glaucoma patients. The procedure would only take a few minutes, could permanently relieve the pressure on his eyes and would be covered by insurance. Dr. Jones again drove Harris to the clinic for the procedure, which ultimately was a success.
“We picked him up over the past two years for every appointment he’s ever come to. And that’s not completely uncommon. I guess that’s kind of shocking to a lot of folks, but we’re in such a rural kind of close-knit area that it’s not a far stretch for us to take our patients home or pick them up.” As Dr. Jones summarizes, “That’s just what optometrists do. I’m certainly not alone in that.”
Currently, two-thirds of primary eye care is provided by doctors of optometry. As of February 2018, doctors of optometry practiced in more than 10,176 communities and counties that account for 99% of the U.S. population. Access to quality eye health and vision care by a licensed and clinically trained optometrist is readily available and within reach for the majority of Americans.
Mitchell and Harris’s experiences are just two of millions of stories that demonstrate how essential quality eye care is to maintaining overall health — and can be life-changing. Whether you’re a stay-at-home parent, student, nurse, teacher, delivery driver, someone who spends all day at a computer or outside, it’s critical to see a doctor of optometry in person. Visit AOA’s Doctor Locator at AOA.org to find one near you.