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In the Spotlight

Vigilant Vision Care Keeps You Out of the Dark – A Clear Plan for Healthy Eyes

Patient seated at computer using screen enlarger while woman assists.
A VA glaucoma patient works with a low-vision specialist on using assistive technology.

The eyes are said to be the "window to the soul." However, they also provide your outlook on life. Many people view sight as the most important of the five senses. As Veterans look to improve their overall health, keeping tabs on eye health is an important piece of the puzzle.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. It's a good reminder for all Veterans to make sure they know the warning signs of eye disease. It's also a great time to plan eye appointments, and to become familiar with the tools available on My HealtheVet to help manage your health.

The Myth: Eye Disease Affects only Older Persons

Glaucoma and another condition such as cataracts primarily affect older persons. However, other eye conditions, like diabetic eye disease, dry eye and vascular changes related to, heart disease sometimes caused by an unhealthy lifestyle (smoking, drinking in excess) also occur with increasing frequency as one ages.

Veterans who have been subject to blast injuries, even if not direct, may have traumatic brain injury (TBI) which can affect Veterans of any age.

Did You Know?

...most Veterans qualify for free eyeglasses? Ask your vision care specialist about this program.

Some of these disorders go undetected until damage is bad, which is why it is important to maintain your eyes. Gerald J. Selvin, O.D., Chief of Optometry at the VA Boston Health Care System, explains. "By the time a patient with glaucoma experiences vision changes, the eyes are usually already damaged. It isn't unusual for early glaucoma, which causes no symptoms, to be discovered by chance when a Veteran comes in for something routine like glasses."

Do I Need an Eye Exam?

January is a great time to plan to have your eyes checked. Your eye doctor can recommend a schedule that’s best for you. As an 'FYI,' Dr. Selvin suggests these general guidelines:

  • Under 40, no risk factors - plan to have your eyes checked every few (3) years.
  • Under 40 with risk factors like smoking, alcohol/drug abuse, diabetes, hypertension, or family history of eye disease - consult a doctor yearly
  • 40 to 60 years old - eye exams every one to two years
  • 60 + years - every year. If you have an existing eye condition you'll need to be monitored more closely.
    "Sudden loss or change—even a very brief black out or gray out—is especially alarming because it could mean impending stroke," says Dr. Selvin. "The eyes are extensions of the brain, so Veterans always need to remain proactive about having any vision change evaluated."

Know the Warning Signs

Keys to daily eye care

  • Wear protective eye gear, such as goggles or glasses, whenever working in an area where debris can fly around.
  • Wear protective eyewear when playing a high impact sport, such as racquetball.
  • Make sure you have adequate lighting when reading to avoid eye fatigue, making it more difficult to stay on task.

If you experience any of the symptoms listed below or any changes in your vision, schedule an eye appointment.

  • Reduction of peripheral (side) vision
  • Tunnel vision
  • Black spots or bright lights
  • Sudden vision change in one or both eyes
  • Blind spots or distortion
  • Blurred vision
  • Inability to read or see fine print
  • Vision changes that interfere with your ability to drive, read, work or watch television or movies
  • Blurriness of distant objects, while close objects are clear
  • A feeling of itchy, scratchy eyes.

How can VA Medical Centers and My HealtheVet Help?

There are tools and resources available to all Veterans to help manage eye care.

The Appointment Calendar and Secure Messaging features on My HealtheVet are great tools for keeping track of your visits to the eye care specialist. VA Appointments in My HealtheVet lets you review current and past VA appointments.. You can also set up appointment reminders via email. To see your appointments, simply log in to My HealtheVet, select the Get Care tab, select the Appointments tab, or select the Health Calendar tab. Enter your information, and you’re all set.

If your eye doctor determines that you need glasses, most Veterans can receive them from the VA with no out-of-pocket costs.

Conditions requiring surgery such as visually significant cataracts can be managed by the VA's outstanding team of eye surgeons located close to most Veterans' homes.

The VA is also the father of low vision care as we know it today, said Dr. Selvin. "Way back in 1948, the VA offered the very first rehabilitative eye care for the visually impaired. Today, the mandate is for each eye clinic in the VA to offer basic low vision services and more extensive treatment for legally blind and near blind veterans in each region."

Stay informed

Updated/Reviewed: January 16, 2012

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