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ALL five senses help to enrich the experiences of daily life, but vision could arguably be the most important one of all.
The National Institute of Health and Welfare reports that about half the Australian population has a vision problem. Most are vision conditions requiring glasses or contacts, but some are more serious and can be age-related.
Heralded as the windows to the soul, the eyes can indicate the presence of a range of other conditions in the body, beyond those traditionally associated with optometry.
The appearance of the retina can indicate a range of vision problems, but beyond eyesight, other physical attributes of the eye can lead to the diagnosis of a number of other health issues.
Traditionally, optometrists are trained to use a light and a magnifying glass to look through the pupil to the back of the eye where they can best detect any problems.
Thanks to Digital Retinal Scanning, optometrists can now take a photo of the inside of the eye and look at it on a screen within seconds, allowing them to more thoroughly study images of the retina, optic nerve and blood vessels.
OPSM Sunshine Plaza optometrist Mark Hoffmann said DRS had become a standard part of most eye examinations he performed, and was extremely beneficial for both patient education and diagnostic purposes.
"We can detect some eye and general health conditions a lot earlier," he said. "If someone comes back and sees a different practitioner, I can draw diagrams and describe what it's like, but nothing's like a photo."
The picture can be kept on file and can be compared with future retinal scans.
OPSM conducted a national study in conjunction with research institute Pure Profile, and less than a third of those surveyed actually realised how many health conditions could be identified by looking at the eyes.
Dr Hoffmann said the retina scan was particularly helpful in the detection of conditions that tended to affect people aged 40 or older.
He experienced first-hand the benefits of using DRS, after he was able to identify swelling of the brain in an 18-year-old patient, who was later diagnosed with a benign brain tumour and underwent surgery the following day.
The good news is that most commonly-occurring conditions affecting vision are easily treated, especially if detected early.
Davey and Associates Optometrists' Tanya Revell recommended two-yearly check-ups, except for diabetics who should see their optometrist every year.
"Early detection is so much better," she said.
THE EYES HAVE IT
Eye Health according to age
Kids and teenagers: Optometrists agree children should have an eye examination before starting school. Dr Revell said the test was an important way to test for visual issues which could affect learning. Children should then have an appointment every two years.
In your 20s to 30s: Eye problems in this age group are usually work- related. Dr Revell said pre-existing visual problems were likely to be exacerbated by intensive computer use. Common symptoms included dry, irritated eyes and headaches.
Over 40s: People aged 40 and older are most likely to need glasses or contacts. The risk of developing more serious eye conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration increases in people of this age group, and symptoms may not be evident without an eye test.
Some of optometrist Tanya Revell's top tips for "eye-deal" eye health:
- Have a check up every two years.
- Protect your eyes outdoors, by wearing a hat and wrap-around sunglasses with 100% UV protection.
- A diet rich in leafy green and coloured vegetables and omega-3s from fish can help fight macular degeneration. Saturated fats and smoking should be avoided.
- If you wear glasses or contacts, make sure your prescription is up to date as some conditions can be made worse by out-of-date lenses.