Eye care…what does it mean? It probably means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In reality, it’s a conglomerate of all of those things.
On first blush, the majority of people would probably mention something about getting glasses and maybe contact lenses. An eye doctor, whether he or she is an optometrist or an ophthalmologist, is trained and licensed to treat refractive errors, visual disorders that create blur and can be improved with glasses. As important as this is, it is how you see the world and a large component of how you’ll judge our effectiveness as doctors, it just scratches the surface of what eye care encompasses.
Our mentor Dr. Rick Sharp taught us eye care triage, basically how to determine the order of priority during each and every patient visit. The first thing is to save the patient’s life, then their eye, and then their vision. Only after those priorities are met, in that order, do we work on improving the quality of their vision.
Save the patient’s life you say?
What can the eye doctor do? Recognize there is likely a brain tumor, or cancer, grossly out of control high blood pressure, impending stroke or an infection of the heart, plus more. We’ve seen all of those, some many times, in patients who were in to get new glasses. How can that be? The eye is the only place in the body where blood vessels and brain (the optic nerve and retina are actually brain tissue) can be directly viewed by simply looking at them. We don’t know when every single patient suffering from the conditions above has them, but when there are clinical signs in the eye or even symptoms picked up in a good, careful history, we do.
Save the eye?
Even a non-seeing eye is preferable to no eye at all. There are conditions besides trauma that can cause a patient to lose an eye. Melanoma of the eye and rare forms of glaucoma related to diabetes or blocked blood vessels in the eye can cause a patient to lose their whole eyeball. Again, we have seen this more often than we can count, but actual loss of the eye has been rare.
When it comes to saving vision, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma and cataract are at the top of the list. These are treatable, but if left unchecked will cause significant vision loss. They are the most common medical conditions an optometrist or ophthalmologist will see.
It doesn’t take a long time to rule out all of those things, and many, many more. What’s important is that we look for them during every comprehensive exam.
These things just scratch the surface of “What is Eye Care?”, all falling into the basket of Primary Eye Care. There are specialists that deal with reading challenges in children and adolescents, alignment of the eyes, specialty contact lenses, prosthetic eyes, and that an incomplete list even without mentioning all the things opticians, the ones who fit and manufacture glasses do.
As is now apparent, Eye Care encompasses much more than most of us think of.