Keeping an eye on your health

How optometrists and ophthalmologists help you see clearly

Have you ever wondered when to see an optometrist vs. an ophthalmologist? Do you really need an annual eye exam? John Sutphin, MD, an ophthalmologist providing eye care at The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, clears up the confusion on these and other eye health questions.

Start with the optometrist

Optometrists may be the easiest eye care providers to access. They can help you with most basic eyesight issues and prescribe glasses or contacts. They also will screen for more serious problems and refer you to an ophthalmologist for issues that require complex medical or surgical help.

You may not need an annual exam

Most adults don’t need an eye exam unless they’re having a problem. At age 40, however, you should start getting exams every 3 or 4 years, when age-related changes often begin. Step it up to every other year at age 65. 

If you have diabetes or a family history of eye disease, you need to see the ophthalmologist more often. Some diseases such as glaucoma may not cause any symptoms before they suddenly begin robbing you of your vision. 

The below timetable represents the recommended frequency of eye evaluations:
  • Before Age 3: All children should have their eyes checked before age 3. If there is family history of childhood vision problems, or if the child has a wandering, crossed, or other eye problem, his or her eyes should be checked earlier.
  • 3-20 years of age: Every one to two years, or as recommended.
  • 20-40 years of age: Every one to two years, unless you experience any problems such as vision changes, pain, flashes of light, new floaters, or tearing, or if you sustain an eye injury.
  • 40-64 years of age: Have baseline eye exam at 40, unless you're having symptoms or have risk factor for eye disease. If you have symptoms or a risk factor, such as high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of eye disease, consult your ophthalmologist or optometrist to discuss how often you should be examined.
  • 65+ years of age: Every one to two years.

Address symptoms right away

Of course, you’ll want to see a doctor quickly with any new symptoms. “If you think something’s wrong, do something about it,” says Dr. Sutphin. That includes symptoms like blurry vision, flashing lights, “floaters” and pain or discomfort around the eyes. 

Catching problems early can save vision. For example, treating macular degeneration early can slow its progress. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to have permanent vision loss.
Don’t ignore symptoms

“If I could give patients one piece of advice, I’d tell them to see us right away if they have any eye health symptoms,” says Dr. Sutphin. “The longer you ignore them, the harder it is for us to help you.”

To request an appointment with an eye doctor, call 913-588-1227 or schedule an appointment online.

You can improve your eye health

While eating more carrots won’t improve your vision, you can take some natural steps to care for your eyes:
  • Getting plenty of vitamin A is good for your eye health.
  • Some vitamins can help slow the progression of macular degeneration.
  • Fish oil has been shown to help with dry eye. In fact, Dr. Sutphin recently participated in a national study on the effects of fish oil in reducing dry eye symptoms.

Screen time may affect you

While there’s no proof that our obsession with smartphones and screens in general causes eye problems, it may make us more aware of existing vision problems. Anything we do that has us focusing for a long time also reduces the amount of blinking, which can lead to dry eye symptoms.

Dry eye is not an epidemic

Seeing so many advertisements for dry eye treatments may have you thinking the condition is on the rise. But Dr. Sutphin says that’s just because a new medicine recently came out. Roughly 15% of the population suffers from dry eye, which can be caused by aging, autoimmune diseases and medications – especially those for allergies. Effective treatments are available.

Eye safety tips

Simple strategies for keeping your eyes safe from harm:

The gift of vision

The Fraternal Order of the Eagles recently gave The University of Kansas Physicians Eye Clinic $83,000 to help patients in need. The gift was inspired by 2016-17 Grand Madame President Judy Johnson, who suffers from macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. Judy traveled to chapters in 47 states and Canada telling the story of how these physicians saved her vision, when others had given up. Along the way, she met many people who had similar eye problems but were afraid to seek help or couldn’t afford to. Her story encouraged them to pursue treatment and inspired them to donate.

“We want to help others get the care they need and not have to literally go blind because they can’t afford treatment,” she says. “When you can help someone increase their life by increasing their vision, it’s really a life-changing thing.”

You can make a difference.

To make a gift, call 913-588-2800 or make a gift online.