Awareness campaign brings attention to eye care

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   The majority of people who wear contacts in the U.S. are women. Women account for over 75 percent of the 34 million contact lens wearers in America, and are susceptible to certain optical diseases. Doctors across the nation have set April aside as National Women's Eye Care Month in order to increase female awareness and prevention.
   Ophthalmologist Dr. Paul Zimmerman, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, is working to increase public awareness about proper eye protection and routine exams. Dr. Zimmerman believes that women stand to benefit greatly from an eye care awareness program. "I think that women are collectively getting more and more health conscience," Dr. Zimmerman said. "There are also some distinct differences between men's and women's eyes."
   Women's eyes go through periods of changes just like many other parts of the female anatomy and need to be dealt with accordingly. When women go through menopause, their eyes begin to dry out and therefore need to be protected by artificial lubricants. The female eye undergoes some substantial changes during pregnancy as well. Many women note changes in their vision and seek refractive corrections. However, ophthalmologists caution women on changing their eye prescriptions during pregnancy because their eyes will revert back after pregnancy. Dr. Zimmerman also noted the importance of taking precautions when wearing eye makeup.
   Women are four times more likely than men to contract optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve. The condition is often related to multiple sclerosis and causes a sudden and dramatic loss of vision in one eye or the other. Dr. Zimmerman stated that the effects of the disease are largely reversible if caught, however, there is a small chance that it could leave women with certain color deficits. Optic neuritis is most common among young women and can effect them up to the age of 60.
   Pseudo tumor cerbri is another optical disease that affects women and the condition mimics the symptoms of a brain tumor, although there is no growth. The disease results in the over production or decrease drainage of the optic nerve. The nerve swells and causes trenchant visual decreases that last for short periods of time.
   The symptoms connected with pseudo tumor cerbri often surface during periods of lifting or heavy straining. Dr. Zimmerman urges those who experience the sudden short periods of blindness to seek medical attention immediately. "You should get to the eye doctor as soon as possible because it can be a blinding disease. Once your sight is lost it is gone for good, or you may end up with a permanent blind spot," Dr. Zimmerman said. "We are not trying to make people worry but are trying to raise public awareness."
   There are certain precautions that all contact lens wearers should take. Dr. Zimmerman advises wearers to remove their contacts if any blurry vision, pain, discomfort or redness occurs. He also stated that individuals should only wear contact lenses that are prescribed for their eyes, because improper lenses, even those with no corrective power, can cause serious damage to the eyeball.
   Go to www.1800CONTACTS.com for more information on how to wear contact lenses correctly. Dr. Zimmerman is a consultant with the Web site and offers a variety of advice on how to avoid eye infections and other complications due to the poor care of contact lenses.
   Another pressing issue facing eye care recently is the option of lasik surgery in order to restore vision problems. Dr. Zimmerman believes the operation is effective, but cautions potential patients to read all of the fine print before they go under the laser. "I think it is very good surgery. Ninety-five percent of the patients who have had it done would have it again," Dr. Zimmerman said. "Those who are not happy did not fully listen to their doctors before they had surgery."
   Dr. Zimmerman went on to encourage patients to talk to a couple of surgeons before deciding on lasik surgery. He noted that it is a surgery and that anything can happen. Many patients are under the misconception that the worst thing that could happen is for their eyesight to remain where it was before the procedure. Dr. Zimmerman noted that there is a minimal chance that the patient's eyesight could end up being worse after lasik surgery.