What Is Vision Therapy?

by Dr. Katy Wilson

Vision therapy (VT) is a phrase that you might have heard lately surrounding Associates in Eye Care. You might wonder, what is vision therapy? How can it help ourselves or our kids? How does VT work? What are signs that VT might be necessary? I will try to answer these questions in order to shed some light on the amazing possibilities that are available through VT. 

Broadly speaking, vision therapy is a customized program of both visual and physical activities that is designed to correct vision problems and improve visual skills. One way to look at Vision Therapy is as Physical Therapy for your eyes. If you or your child has a weak visual system we can do therapy on that system to make it stronger and more functional. In other words, Vision Therapy helps you use your eyes more easily.

VT starts with assessing each patient as an individual, and then specific activities are put into place to help strengthen the skills that person needs to use their eyes as a strong team. These abilities include overall coordination, body awareness, visual awareness, how well the two eyes work as a team, and how well the eyes send signals to the brain. We then put all of those skills together so that the individual can successfully, easily, and quickly process the information they see. 

How well your eyes communicate with your brain is so important for learning and for comfortable vision. For example, when you are first learning to drive there is a lot to pay attention to. You have to pay attention to your arms to steer, your legs to hit the correct pedal at the correct pressure, other cars, road signs, the speed limit, the mirrors, the gas gauge etc…. It feels overwhelming at first. Once you master the wheel, the pedals, the roads, the mirrors, the AC, and the wipers you find yourself hardly even thinking about it anymore. You just do it without a thought. 

When someone is unable to use their eyes effortlessly it is like they’re just learning to drive for the first time every single time they sit down to learn. It’s frustrating for them! There is so much they are trying to concentrate on at once. Focusing their eyes, avoiding seeing double, what word they are on, what line they are on, even what letter are they on… To most, this comes naturally. To some, it is a constant struggle. When someone has to really work to use their eyes as a team they often don’t have enough energy left to focus on the material they are reading. They are so focused on just making their vision functional that their ability to learn becomes severely compromised. Kids might get fidgety or lose focus. They might become irritable or disruptive in class. Both adults and kids might feel tired or have poor memory. These are all things that are completely understandable for someone who is struggling to use their eyes efficiently.

Alternatively, when the eyes can easily and effortlessly see they are then able to easily process what the brain is trying to learn. It is in this environment that a child’s performance skyrockets both in school and sports. The ultimate goal of Vision Therapy, and the ultimate goal of Associates in Eye Care, is to help our patients learn and live with comfortable and effortless vision.

Dr. Wilson is the VT specialist at Associates in Eye Care of Somerset

Cataract Facts

by Dr. Stephen McKinley

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of your eye. Cataracts are very common as you get older. In fact, more than half of all Americans age 70 or older either have cataracts or have had surgery to get rid of cataracts. At first, you may not notice that you have a cataract. But over time, cataracts can make your vision blurry, hazy, or less colorful. You may have trouble reading or doing other everyday activities. The good news is that surgery can get rid of cataracts. 

There are many different types of cataracts

Most cataracts are age-related — they happen because of normal changes in your eyes as you get older. But you can get cataracts for other reasons — for example, after an eye injury or after surgery for another eye problem.

What are the symptoms of cataracts?

You might not have any symptoms at first, when cataracts are mild. But as cataracts grow, they can cause changes in your vision. You may notice that your vision is cloudy or blurry, and that colors look faded.  You can’t see well at night or you see halos around lights. You may even notice that you begin to see double.

Who is at risk for cataracts?

Your risk for cataracts goes up as you get older. You’re also at higher risk if you have diabetes, or you smoke or drink too much alcohol.  Family history plays a role, have had an eye injury, or that you have taken certain medications for a long time.  An example of this is steroids. Steroids can cause certain types of cataracts to show up in your eyes.

What causes cataracts?

Most cataracts are caused by normal changes in your eyes as you get older.  When you’re young, the lens in your eye is clear. Around age 40, the proteins in the lens of your eye start to break down and clump together. This clump makes a cloudy area on your lens — or a cataract. Over time, the cataract gets more severe and clouds more of the lens.

Stephen McKinley is the chief optometrist of Associates in Eye Care of Whitley City. Call 606-376-5258 for an appointment.

Glaucoma Facts

By Dr. Mark Jacobs, Associates in Eye Care of Somerset

What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a group of diseases, but they all cause a loss of the fibers in the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. The damage is most often caused by elevated pressure in the eye, but is also possible to have glaucoma with normal eye pressures.

What are the symptoms of Glaucoma?
In most cases of glaucoma, there are no symptoms until the very end stages of the disease. That is the reason it is sometimes called the “silent stealer of sight”. Glaucoma causes loss of the peripheral, or side, vision first before ultimately taking central vision if not properly treated. This is one of the reasons it is so important to have regular
eye exams, even if you think your current glasses are OK or even if you don’t need glasses or contacts.
There is a type of glaucoma, called angle closure glaucoma, that will cause severe eye and brow pain, foggy vision, redness of the eye, and even vomiting. This is an ocular emergency and requires treatment within hours of onset to preserve sight.

How do you test for glaucoma?
At every comprehensive eye exam, we will measure the pressure of
the eye and do a careful examination of the optic nerve through a
dilated pupil. If either the pressure is elevated above normal and/or
the optic nerve has an appearance possibly indicative of glaucoma, we
will order further testing and imaging to measure the peripheral vision, the ocular drainage system, and the thickness of the nerve fiber layer in the retina. In most cases, we will repeat the tests after a period of several months to monitor for changes that would indicate a need for treatment.

How do you treat Glaucoma?
Most patients with glaucoma are treated with a single eye drop used
nightly. In those cases where that is not sufficient, we can add
additional drops or perform a laser treatment in our office called SLT. In rare cases, it is required that the patient be sent for more extensive surgical procedures, but again, that is not often required.
Generally, glaucoma patients are seen every 3-4 months to monitor
their condition.

What is the prognosis for people with Glaucoma?
Worldwide, glaucoma is among the three leading causes of blindness.
Untreated, most glaucoma patients would go blind within 10-15 years
of developing the condition. Thankfully, with proper treatment and
monitoring, most patients never notice any vision loss or other
symptoms.

Dr. Mark Jacobs is the chief optometrist at Associates in Eye Care of Somerset. Call 606-678-4551 to schedule your appointment.

Protect Your Eyes From Strain And Injury At Work

by Dr. Matthew Testa, Associates in Eye Care of Jellico

No matter what you do for a living you probably couldn’t do it without using your eyes. Whether you’re a mechanic, welder, or you work in an office on a computer all day; protecting your eyes is very important.

If you have a job that has a lot of dangerous equipment like landscaping, any job that requires grinding metal, or construction, the main thing you can do is wear safety glasses. Safety glasses are specially made using more durable lenses that will not shatter. They will stop fast moving metal and rocks. Safety glasses have saved countless eyes from potentially sight threatening injuries. If you are a welder or out in the sun all day, making sure you have proper protection from the light is also important. That can be either a welder’s mask or sunglasses to prevent UV rays from damaging your eyes.

If you work in an office or in front of a computer all day, there are a few tricks to help maintain healthy eyes. When looking at a computer screen, you tend to blink less, which can dry out your eyes. Keeping over-the-counter artificial tears at your work desk can help your eyes feel more comfortable throughout the day. Also, when looking at the computer for long periods of time some people feel eye strain. It is important to take 30 second breaks, where you either close your eyes or look at something far away (about 20 feet), every 20 minutes or so. This will help prevent eye strain and tension headaches. One last thing you can do to help your eyes stay healthy is get blue blocker or anti-glare coatings on your lenses to minimize glare and the amount of harmful blue light getting in your eyes throughout the day. To find out more about these safety options for your glasses, find your nearest Associates in Eye Care office.

Dr. Matthew Testa can be reached at our Jellico, TN office.
Call (423) 784-2020

What You Should Know About Macular Degeneration

by Dr. Todd Overley, Associates in Eye Care of Williamsburg

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of severe vision loss in adults over age 50. There are about 1.8 million Americans that have AMD and another 7.3 million are at risk for vision loss from AMD.

Individuals with fair skin and blue eyes are at higher risk for developing AMD. Women tend to develop AMD at a younger age than men. There are genetic factors that may be involved as well, so if you have relatives with AMD it is important to have yearly eye exams.

This eye disease occurs when there are degenerative changes to the macula, which is a small central part of the retina that is used to see fine details. AMD is a loss of central vision that can occur in a “dry” and “wet” form.  The wet form occurs with fluid beneath the retina starts leaking through the retina from the blood supply beneath it leading to rapid vision loss.

Most people with macular degeneration have the dry form. While there is no specific treatment for dry AMD, studies have shown a potential benefit from over the counter vitamin supplements, a heart healthy diet, regular exercise, and stop smoking.  The less common wet form may respond to injections of medications into the eye if detected and treated early.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of AMD

In its early stages, signs of macular degeneration include a gradual loss of the ability to see objects clearly, objects appear distorted, lines that you know are straight appear to look wavy, and a dark area in the center of vision that will not go away. These can often go unnoticed, so it is important to check each eye individually on a daily basis.

If you experience any of the above signs or symptoms, contact your doctor of optometry immediately for a comprehensive eye examination. Your optometrist will perform a variety of tests to determine if you have macular degeneration or any other eye health problems.

Central vision that is lost to macular degeneration cannot be restored. However, low-vision devices, such as telescopic and microscopic lenses, can improve existing vision.

Treatment of AMD

With “dry” macular degeneration, the tissue of the macula gradually deteriorates and becomes thin and stops working properly. There is no cure for dry AMD, and any loss in central vision cannot be restored.

There seems to be a link between nutrition and the progression of dry AMD. Making dietary changes such as eating a heart healthy diet, exercise, and taking nutritional supplements can often slow vision loss.

In about 10% of cases, “wet” macular degeneration occurs. This is when fluids leak from newly formed blood vessels under the macula. This leakage causes a sudden and severe loss of central vision. 

If detected early, wet AMD can be treated with intraocular injections of anti-VEGF medications.

Researchers have linked nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthinvitamin Cvitamin E and zinc to reducing the risk of certain eye diseases, including macular degeneration.  So even though it may not prevent the occurrence of AMD, it may slow its progression.

Regular eye exams from your optometrist can help detect these changes in their earliest stages.

Dr. Todd Overley is the chief optometrist at Associates in Eye Care of Williamsburg, KY. To schedule an appointment, call 606-549-0464.