August is National Eye Exam Month, and it’s no coincidence that it comes right at the beginning of back to school season! The value of good eyesight cannot be underestimated. A 2010 national survey of adults commissioned by Lighthouse International showed that of all the five human senses, the ability to see was overwhelmingly the most important. In fact, 82 percent of people surveyed feared the loss of sight, compared to the loss of hearing (8%), smell (3%), touch (2%), or taste (2%). A 2005 national survey of adults co-sponsored by the National Eye Institute and the Lions Club International Foundation found that when asked to think about certain conditions that would affect their everyday living, 71 percent of people surveyed rated the loss of eyesight as a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10—with 10 indicating the greatest impact. Maintaining good eye health through proper vision care is essential for overall health and well-being.
The school setting provides a public health environment for vision screening children, which, in turn, can serve as a platform for Optometrists to communicate about eye conditions with patients and their families. Many difficulties in school can stem from a learning-related vision problem. Experts estimate 80% of what a child learns in school is presented visually, and visual problems are often erroneously diagnosed as laziness, learning disabilities, or even severe attention issues. The most prevalent vision-related childhood conditions are simple refractive errors, followed by amblyopia, strabismus, and binocular/accommodative issues. Many parents incorrectly assume when their child passes a school vision screening, there is no vision problem. While school nurses provide an invaluable service by screening children at the beginning of the school year, there is no substitute for a comprehensive eye exam by an Optometrist. They are not aware that a child who can see 20/20 can still have difficulty with their vision. In fact, Prevent Blindness® reports that one in four children has an undiagnosed vision problem. In most of these cases, a simple pair of glasses could help provide these children with the clear and comfortable vision they need to learn effectively.
On the other hand, more than 38 million adult Americans suffer from eye diseases and more than 10 million adult Americans have an undiagnosed eye problems or conditions. The most common vision impairments among adults aged 19-40 are caused by simple refractive errors with nearly early 90% of those who use a computer at least three hours a day suffering from vision problems associated with computer eye strain. For adults aged 40 and older, most vision impairments are caused by eye diseases. Many of the most common eye diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration, typically do not have early warning signs but can have devastating consequences for our patients. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss and blindness among Americans age 65 and older, affecting 2 million Americans. Glaucoma affects more than three million Americans, but only half are aware they have the disease because the symptoms are so subtle. Diabetes is the third leading cause of blindness in the United States but the leading cause of vision impairment in patients under 50.
While these statistics are no revelation to eye care practitioners, most of our patients are not thinking about these things when they come in for a routine eye exam, or when they decide to skip their visit this year because their glasses seem okay. With the advent of disruptive technologies that offer to bypass the whole medical exam and write a questionable eyeglass prescription by pressing a few buttons on a smart phone app, it is now more important than ever to educate our patients on the importance of their annual eye exam!