Protecting Your Future

December 1, 2006 by  
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Your guide to vision care

While blindness affects more than one million Americans age 40 and older, the number of visually impaired in this country totals more than 3.4 million. Furthermore, the number of Americans with age-related eye disease or consequential vision impairment is expected to double within the next three decades. With such a rapidly increasing figure, eye disease and vision loss is undoubtedly emerging as a major public health problem. Engaging in annual eye examinations can lead to the prevention and/or delay of eye diseases that can result in blindness, especially for those individuals with diabetes, age 65 and older, or African Americans older than 40.

What is ophthalmology?
Ophthalmology is a branch of medicine encompassing the anatomy, function and diseases of the eye. Often referred to as “Eye M.D.s,” ophthalmologists are trained physicians who specialize in diagnosing and treating eye and vision problems, including vision services and surgery. Not to be confused with an optometrist (a Doctor of Optometry), an ophthalmologist is a medical doctor, or M.D., who has completed four years of medical school, a year-long internship and a minimum of three years of residency training in ophthalmology. Optometrists complete a pre-professional undergraduate college education followed by four years of professional education in a college of optometry. Some optometrists also fulfill a residency program.

Cornea and external disease
Ophthalmologists focusing on cornea and external disease diagnose and handle diseases of the cornea, sclera, conjunctiva and eyelids, including corneal dystrophies, microbial infections, conjunctival and corneal tumors, inflammatory processes and anterior ocular manifestations of systematic diseases. Ophthalmologists in this field often perform corneal transplant surgery or corneal surgery to correct refractive errors.

One of the most common causes of preventable vision loss, glaucoma is a group of eye diseases resulting from intraocular pressure levels that damage the optic nerve and nerve fibers that form parts of the retina in the back of the eye. Individuals that suffer from glaucoma often experience no symptoms until they begin to lose part of their peripheral vision. Although visual loss is most often permanent and irreversible, many cases can be treated by prescription drugs, laser therapies and surgery. Increased intraocular pressure and the state of the optic nerve head are only detectable during an eye examination performed by an ophthalmologist.

LASIK is a surgical procedure that is performed to correct nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. Permanently removing corneal tissue to reshape the eye in order to improve refraction, LASIK is a fairly safe procedure for permanent vision correction — with only a 2 percent intra-operative and 3 to 5 percent post-operative complication rate. More than 90 percent of patients with low to moderate myopia achieve 20/40 vision, while more than half achieve 20/20 vision or better.

While more than half of the brain is used for vision-related activities, vision problems can often be caused by the optic nerve or the nervous system. Neuro-ophthalmologists evaluate patients from a neurologic, ophthalmologic and medical standpoint to diagnose and care for a wide range of problems, including optic nerve problems, visual field loss, visual disturbances, double vision, abnormal eye movements, thyroid eye disease, unequal pupil size and eyelid abnormalities.

Do your research
The American Board of Ophthalmology can provide an abundance of credible resources to utilize if you are seeking the services of an ophthalmologist. Prospective patients may find out if an ophthalmologist is certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology by visiting or by contacting 1 (866) ASK-ABMS.

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Houston Eye Associates

Rosa A. Tang, M.D., MPH

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