You’ve heard the saying, “The eyes are the window to a person’s soul,” or something along those lines. Our eyes can give away our thoughts, feelings, and fears. And when you meet someone for the first time, how often do you notice their eyes, especially if they’re an unusual colour?
Our eyes play a huge role in our everyday lives. Just yesterday, I saw a woman who was visually impaired cross the road confidently with her white and red walking aid. I was so impressed with how she deftly navigated the cross walk and got to the opposite side without incident. I sat there in my car, trying to imagine how difficult that must be and how I admired that lady being able to carry on with her daily life like anyone else. I’m not sure I could be so strong.
Being visually impaired isn’t a black and white thing. There are many degrees of impairment. For starters, look at yours truly; I’ve needed glasses since the third grade. For nearly as long as I can remember, I’ve had some form of visual impairment. In 9th grade I switched to contact lenses because I was starting to play sports and my glasses were getting so thick that they were becoming a nuisance on the field and on the court. And let’s face it - having coke-bottle glasses in high school wasn’t exactly a confidence-boosting accessory for me. Teens have it waaaaay better with such a great selection of frames now.
On top of that, my attention to my vision was drilled into me since I was very little. The importance of eating carrots, not squinting, not reading in the dark, not sitting too close to the TV, were all cardinal rules to good eye health. At least according to my parents. Not that any of it mattered given how high my contact lens prescription had reached. But perhaps the biggest lesson learned was when my Dad got a retinal detachment in one of his eyes during my senior year in high school. I remember my parents constantly warning me that I have my dad’s eyes and that I have a likelihood of getting a retinal detachment as well. As you can imagine, I couldn’t partake in anything that could result in a head injury or any kind of trauma (slight or significant) to the head. But watching how difficult my Dad’s recovery was, really scared me.
Ever since that time, I’ve been hyper-vigilant when it comes to vision health. So with it being Vision Health month, I want to bring some attention to the importance of taking care of your eyes. I recently learned, ophthalmologists play a big role in our eye health. In talking to my friends, I realized that not many people know what an ophthalmologist is, nor the difference between an ophthalmologist and an optometrist.
What is an ophthalmologist?
Ophthalmologists specialize in eye and vision care and are the only eye care professionals who are medical doctors. They can diagnose and treat common eye diseases like glaucoma and cataracts. Unlike optometrists and opticians, ophthalmologists must complete a four-year undergraduate university degree, four years of medical school followed by five years of residency training in ophthalmology, learning to treat medical and surgical eye diseases. Along with being able to diagnose and treat all eye diseases and perform surgeries, they can also prescribe and fit eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems.
How would you go about finding one?
You need a referral from your doctor and you’ll also find them on-call at hospitals as they are the primary point of care for eye emergencies. However, it’s worth learning more about the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS). COS is a non-profit and the national, recognized authority on eye and vision care in Canada. COS works collaboratively with the Canadian government, specialty societies, academic communities, and other eye care professionals and patient groups to advocate for eye and vision health policy in Canada.
Why see one?
In a recent study, the COS found that 59% of Canadians experience symptoms of potential eye diseases, yet only half of these people reported that they had seen a health care professional. These symptoms can include difficulty seeing at night, problems reading up close, blurry vision, red and watery eyes, seeing flashes of light and double vision. Some of these symptoms may develop as a result of a serious eye diseases, so it’s vitally important that you go see an ophthalmologist if you’re experiencing any of these.
While I’m thankful that I can see clearly - thanks to high prescription contact lenses - I know that I have a responsibility to keep my eyes as healthy as possible, which includes getting enough sleep. That’s what Dr. Nawaaz Nathoo, a Vancouver-based ophthalmologist recommends. Learn more about Dr. Nathoo in an upcoming blog post where I shadow him for a day to learn about the life of an ophthalmologist!