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Take Steps to Keep Your Sight

Dr. Emily Chew conducting an eye exam

Dr. Emily Chew of the National Eye Institute (NEI) conducts a thorough eye exam on her patient, Charles R. Tansil.
Photo Ernie Branson, NIH

Dr. Paul A. Sieving

NEI Director Dr. Paul A. Sieving urges all Americans to get regular dilated eye exams.
Photo Ernie Branson, NIH

Most of us take our eyesight for granted—until it’s threatened. But regular dilated eye exams can help prevent eye problems even before there are any warning signs.

“I had come to the National Eye Institute on a routine visit to see Dr. Emily Chew, my retinal specialist who was studying diabetic retinopathy,” says Charles R. Tansil of Montgomery, Maryland. “I had no idea there was any particular problem.”

Tansil, who had participated in several National Eye Institute (NEI) clinical research studies about aging eyes over the previous years, was surprised at what he heard next from Chew, M.D., deputy director of NEI’s Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Research. “She said, ‘You have a carotid artery that is almost stopped up, and you should have it checked out.’”

Tansil did have his doctor check his carotid artery, and the problem was very real; a condition that could easily have led to a stroke without intervention to remove the blockage. His doctor was surprised and pleased that Dr. Chew had spotted the potential problem: “You should absolutely be happy that she spotted it,” he told Tansil.

Most people might not think that a thorough, dilated-eye exam could be used to spot a potential severe health danger that may have nothing to do directly with the eyes. But such regular exams can, indeed, help spot trouble in a variety of areas even before there are any warning signs.

Fast Facts

  • Many causes of blindness are preventable through
    timely treatment.
  • Protect your eyesight through regular eye exams, maintaining a healthy diet, and protecting your eyes at all ages.
  • 20/20 vision does not necessarily mean perfect vision. Overall visual ability also includes peripheral awareness (side vision), eye coordination, depth perception, focusing ability, and color vision.
  • Common impairments to vision include near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism.
  • The leading causes of blindness are cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

That’s a message that Dr. Chew and her NEI colleagues want to have more Americans understand.

Americans report that, of all disabilities, loss of eyesight would have the greatest impact on their daily life, according to an NEI survey. Vision loss ranks ahead of loss of memory, speech, arm or leg, and hearing. But losing eyesight is not a normal part of aging. What’s more, the NEI reports that most cases of blindness can be prevented through early detection and treatment of eye diseases.

For more than 40 years, research and funding from the NEI have helped prevent and treat eye diseases and vision disorders and enabled great strides in the understanding of eye health.

“Diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration affect millions of Americans,” says NEI Director Paul A. Sieving, M.D., Ph.D. “These conditions were once untreatable, robbing people of their vision, mobility, and independence. Thankfully, in the last decade, medical researchers have developed highly effective, sight-saving treatments. However, these treatments are only effective if the disease is diagnosed before it causes vision loss. Since there are often no warning signs, regular dilated eye exams are key to early detection and treatment.”

Eye Expert Dr. Emily Chew: 3 Ways to Keep Your Sight

“Keeping your eyes healthy means learning about them and the conditions for which you may be at risk,” says Emily Chew, M.D., deputy director of NEI’s Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Research. “Early detection and treatment are the keys to preventing vision loss. Remember, poor vision is not a normal part of aging.”

  1. Get regular eye exams.
    One of the easiest ways to keep your eyes healthy is by getting a regular eye exam. Early detection and treatment are the keys to preventing vision loss. In fact, the eyes often show signs of other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, when no other symptoms are present. An eye care professional may be the first to identify one of these problems. If you are at higher risk for an eye disease, it is important to make sure you get an eye exam through dilated pupils. This allows your eye care provider to see more of the inside of your eyes to check for early signs of the disease. After the exam, your close-up vision may remain blurred for several hours.
  2. Eat a healthy diet.
    Your mother may have told you to eat green, leafy vegetables, and she was right. These veggies are high in vitamin A, a key ingredient to good sight.
  3. Protect your eyes at all ages.
    Eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children in the United States. Most injuries are sports-related. Outfit your child with goggles or helmet shields for sports. Protect your own eyes when working with lawn mowers and other tools. Be sure to wear sunglasses to limit the impact of ultraviolet rays from the sun on your eyes.


Winter 2012 Issue: Volume 6 Number 4 Page 10