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Keep Your Eyes Healthy

Whether taking in a sunset or perceiving a road at night, eyes have a crucial job. Here’s how to protect them through your lifetime.

By Lisa Whitmore
Blue eye close-upElinor Carucci


Eye Q’s

Answers to the questions that patients commonly ask their doctors.

Q. Whom should I see for my exam, an ophthalmologist or an optometrist?

A. Either. An ophthalmologist is a doctor of medicine (M.D.), which means he or she went to medical school and had an internship and a residency in ophthalmology. An optometrist is a doctor of optometry (O.D.) and has completed four years of optometry school. Both can give comprehensive examinations and prescribe glasses and contacts. But only an ophthalmologist can perform surgery.

Q. How often should I have my eyes examined?

A. According to Dori Carlson, an optometrist and a spokesperson for the American Optometric Association, a child should have his first screening, generally done by a pediatrician, anywhere from birth to age one. A second screening should be done at age three and another before the child starts school. Carlson suggests yearly exams after that, unless a doctor tells you otherwise. Most important, experts recommend having a comprehensive examination at age 40. If you start to notice changes in your vision, see a doctor, regardless of your age.

Q. Do I need to have my eyes dilated during an exam?

A. Probably. It’s the most common way a doctor can see deep inside the eyes to ensure that the optic nerves are healthy and to check the retinas. Schedule an appointment late in the day, when outdoor light isn’t too bright and you can avoid reading and computer work afterward, says Carlson. However, some ophthalmologists use a machine that lets them see into the eye without dilating.

Q. Why do my eyes start stinging when I’m tired?

A. The most likely culprit is dryness. When your eyes have been open for many hours, their surfaces dry out. And if you’ve been watching TV or using a computer, the problem can occur even more quickly, since when you look intently at something, you blink less and so lubricate your eyes less. Also, as you age, your ability to produce tears decreases. When your eyes are dry, they can’t flush irritants from the surfaces, so they may sting or feel scratchy. The solution: Use preservative-free artificial tears when you feel that burning sensation. (They’re safe to use with contacts.)

Q. Sometimes I see little squiggles in my vision. What are these?

A. They’re called floaters. Each eye is filled with a jellylike substance called the vitreous humor. It’s crystal clear and firm when you are young, but as you age, it liquefies. Floaters are simply little clumps of this jelly that cast shadows on the retina. They can be perfectly normal, says Koury, and you should worry only if they increase dramatically in number or if you see flashes of light, too.

Q. Can two brown-eyed parents have a blue-eyed child?

A. Yes. Eye color is determined by the amount of melanin in the irises. A bunch of genes control how much melanin develops. “Because eye color isn’t dependent on one gene, it’s possible for two people with brown eyes to have a baby with blue eyes or for two parents with blue eyes to have a brown-eyed child,” says Graubart. Many babies are born with blue eyes, as the genes responsible for iris pigmentation haven’t yet kicked in. If the genes end up telling the irises to produce more melanin, the eyes darken.
Read More About:Preventative Health

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