Getting the importance of optometry into the ‘public eye’

Sept. 20, 2012

The patient walked into the optometry office of Dr. Bonnie Gallant at Charlottetown Vision Care a month or two after losing the sight in one of eye.
The problem turned out to be bleeding in the back of his eye because of diabetes he didn’t even know he had.
Gallant sent him to a specialist. The bleeding stopped, but scarring in the back of his eye meant he never regained vision in it.
Such horror stories are not uncommon.
A recent national survey found the majority of Canadians think they don’t need to get regular eye exams if they can see fine, even though eye exams can detect much more than just the need for a pair of glasses.
Some eye diseases are asymptomatic, meaning you could have them for years but not know it, Gallant said.
An eye exam could also pick up systemic diseases like diabetes, she said.
“It’s the only part of the body where we can look and see the blood vessels without doing surgery.”
Dr. Jayne Toombs, an optometrist working at the Family Vision Centre, said even tumours could be found through eye exams.
She had a recent patient who had a tumour found in the back of their eye.
Gallant said the public campaign to encourage eye exams has not been good enough.
People think it’s just about getting glasses or contacts and if they can see, then everything is fine. But there are really serious eye diseases like glaucoma that can go undetected, said Gallant.
It can steal peripheral vision, vision to the side, bit by bit for years until it is almost gone, and you don’t notice it, Gallant said.
“Somebody who has 20/20 vision can still have an eye disease.”
Toombs agrees the marketing for eye exams has not been good enough.
“They’re not getting the information to the public.”
Eye exams not being covered under Medicare, which probably has a lot to do with it because people don’t want to pay out of their own pocket, she said.
“People don’t like to do that.”
Gallant said eye exams are especially important for children, because of a condition called amblyopia, or lazy eye, where one eye doesn’t develop properly.
If it is caught when the child is still young, the eye can be treated. If it isn’t caught before the eyes are done developing, the connection between the eye and the brain never develops properly and the eye will not be able to see well, she said.
“We worry about that later in life because if you ever had an injury to your good eye, or developed an eye disease in your good eye, then you don’t have another eye to fall back on.”
Toombs said people are beginning to take eye exams more seriously now and some of that can be attributed to the Internet.
“People are a lot more aware.”
People get a lot of their information from the Internet, so when they have a symptom, Google it and it comes up related to an eye problem, they make an appointment to get their eyes checked, she said.
Still, people need to know not all the information on the Internet is true, said Toombs.
“People are a lot more knowledgeable now.”
Gallant said any way to get the message across about eye exams is a good thing.
“Anything that can get the word out that exams are important for more than just how clearly you can see.”