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The eye holds a unique place in medicine. Your eye doctor can see almost every part of your eye from an exterior view. Other than your skin, almost every other part of your body cannot be fully examined without either entering the body (with a scope) or scanning your body with an imaging device (such as a CAT scan, MRI or ultrasound).

This gives your eye doctor the ability to determine most eye problems just by looking in your eye. Even though that makes diagnosing most problems more straightforward than in other medical specialties, there are still many things you can do to get the most out of your eye exams. Here are the top 7 things you can do to get as much as possible out of your exam.

1) Bring your corrective eyewear with you. Have glasses? Bring them. Have separate pairs for distance and reading? Bring them both. Have contacts? Bring them with you and not just the lenses themselves but the lenses prescription, which is on the box they came in. What we most want to know is the brand, the base curve (BC) and the prescription. If you have both contacts and glasses bring BOTH.

2) Know your family history of eye diseases. There are several eye diseases that run in families. The big ones are Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration and Retinal Detachments.  If you have a family history of one of these, it may change a doctor’s recommendations for intervention compared to someone without a family history.

3) Know your medical problems. There are several medical problems that correlate with certain diseases of the eye. Diabetes, hypertension, thyroid disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases all correlate with particular eye problems.    Knowing your medical history greatly increases the likelihood of more accurately dealing with your eye problem.

4) Know your medications. Several medications are known to produce specific eye problems. Drugs like steroids, Plaquenil, Gleevac, amiodarone, fingolamide, diuretics and Topamax, to name a few, can create problems in your eye. Knowing you are on certain medications may make it much easier for the doctor to arrive at a diagnosis of your eye condition.

5) Be calm and do your best. There are several tests we do that require your participation. The two tests that make people most anxious are the refraction (test to determine glasses or contacts prescriptions) and a visual field test (tests your peripheral vision most commonly for glaucoma). With both of these tests just stay calm and give your best answers. There are no perfect answers. You are not going to get shocked for a wrong answer so don’t ramp up the anxiety; just give it your best try.

6) Bring someone with you when possible. There are two reasons for this. One is that it is better not to drive home if you are having your eyes dilated. Many people can do it comfortably, but some can’t. If you are not sure you can drive comfortably with your eyes dilated it is better to have someone with you who can drive home. The second reason is that is always better to have a second pair of ears to hear what the doctor is telling you - especially if the problem is significant. There are many studies that show a person often mishears or misremembers what they have been told, especially if they are anxious. Two pairs of ears are better than one.

7) Write down any questions. It’s very easy to forget to ask something you really wanted to know. You will get your questions answered much better if you have written them down prior to your appointment.

Follow these tips and you will have your best experience possible at your next exam.

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

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Ask Dr. Stewart Your Eye Care Questions

What can be expected during a contact lens fitting?

A patient can expect to have a different experience when having a contact lens fitting. In addition to the eyeglass exam, questions will be asked to determine which contact lens will work best for them. Will they want to leave the lenses in their eyes overnight or will they remove them every day? Will they wear them only occasionally or will they be for everyday use? Do they want a contact lens that they throw away every day or do they want a contact lens that they have to clean and disinfect? If the patient is over age 40 and has a compromised ability to see up close, how will they see up close with their contact lenses? Will they wear readers over their distant contacts, or will they wear multifocal contacts, or will they wear monovision?

Are some people more prone to having Dry Eyes than others?

Experiencing dry eye symptoms is more common as we grow older, particularly in people 50 years of age and older. Hormonal changes in women who are experiencing menopause or who are post-menopausal. Inflammation in our body can affect the tear gland's ability to produce tears. Eye or health conditions such as glaucoma, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's Syndrome can be associated with Dry Eyes. Environmental conditions such as dry winter air, dry indoor heated air, working on the computer, and wearing contact lenses can cause Dry Eyes.

Are there advantages to single-use contact lenses? What are they?

Single-use daily wear contacts are convenient to the patient and a healthy recommendation from their eye doctor. At the end of the day, the patient only has to dispose of the contacts. There is no need to take the contacts out to clean and disinfect them. The patients time and money spent on solutions and caring for them are eliminated. Not to mention that the next time they wear a contact, they will be wearing a brand new contact! The single best recommendation your eye doctor can make is to recommend single-use daily wear contacts. They are the healthiest contact that can be worn. The contact lens pathology issues of wearing the same contact for two or four weeks such as neovascularization, microcystic edema, and bacterial infections are greatly reduced.

What is an eye infection?

Your eyes can get infections from bacteria, fungi, or viruses. Eye infections can occur in different parts of the eye and can affect just one eye or both. Two common eye infections are conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye) and lid styes which are swollen lid bumps that can also be painful. Common signs of an eye infection are pain, itching, or a sensation of a foreign body in the eye, photosensitivity, redness or small red lines in the white of the eye, discharge of yellow pus that may be crusty upon awaking, and tears.

What happens during a typical Diabetic Eye Exam?

Your Eye Doctor will evaluate the back of your eye called the Retina to check for leaking blood vessels. Diabetic retinopathy occurs when elevated blood sugars damage the walls of the blood vessels. The vessel walls may thicken, leak, develop clots, close off, or grow balloon-like defects called microaneurysms.

My eyes tear all the time. Why do you call it Dry Eyes?

Your eyes have extra tears because your eyes produce extra tears to combat irritation and dryness. A better way to describe Dry Eyes is tear film instability, which refers to the composition of your tears not being in the proper composition. Stopping eyes from producing extra tears is a goal in the treatment of Dry Eyes.

At what age should my child have his/her eyes examined?

If you ask 10 different Doctors you will get 10 different answers. Newborns have their eyes checked in the birthing ward for starters. From birth to age 5 their eyes are growing. At age 5 is a good time to schedule a regular eye examination, however, if any unusual eye behavior is observed under age 5 an eye exam should be scheduled at that time. Unusual eye behavior such as eye squinting, a head tilt, or having to get close to see.