The Importance of Vision Awareness

By David L. Podos

Physician Alexander Harris’ practice is located at Slocum-Dickson Medical Group. He recommends making eye exams a regular part of your healthcare routine.

Many of us are hardly aware of just how incredible our eyes are until something goes wrong. Then we appreciate how magnificent they truly are.

This writer knows all too well how important eye health is and the need to properly care for them.

Eye disease runs in my family; like glaucoma, which I have due to macular degeneration. Those who have eye diseases may look for a doctor that can provide the appropriate eye disease treatments.

Vision awareness is crucial if we want to have healthy eyes throughout our lives.

Bringing excellence in eye care to his patients throughout the Mohawk Valley is Alexander Harris. His practice is located at the Slocum-Dickson Medical Group near Utica. His education is extensive.

“My undergraduate degree is from Boston University. My medical degree is from the Common Wealth Medical College in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I completed my internship at Leigh High Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and my former ophthalmology residence training was done at SUNY Upstate in Syracuse,” said Harris, a credentialed board-certified ophthalmologist.

There are many disorders and diseases of the eye that he treats. “One of the more common eye problems I encounter is dry eye, especially in the colder months when home heating systems are on and the air in the house is very dry. Symptoms of dry eye are generally burning and irritation of the eye, as well as eye redness. This condition is treated safely by lubricating eye drops,” he said.

Harris also treats serious eye conditions, such as cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

“Another common eye condition I see in my patients is cataracts.

Cataracts are natural changes in the eye over time where the lens of the eye gets cloudy,” he said. “The treatment is (if symptoms warrant) surgery, which I do at my surgical center in Rome. During the surgical procedure, I change out the cloudy lens for a clear plastic one. Glaucoma is another common eye condition that is associated with higher pressures inside the eye. It affects the side vision of a patient, not the central vision.

So most patients aren’t aware they even have it until the condition worsens. That is why routine eye exams are so important.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, macular degeneration, often called age-related macular degeneration, is an eye disorder associated with aging and results in damaging sharp and central vision.

Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide and the leading cause of vision loss in the United States. Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises. If not treated, it can result in optic nerve damage, causing vision loss.

The National Eye Institute has some sobering statistics regarding eye disease. Its research shows that (as of 2013) 2.1 million Americans have advanced AMD and by 2030 it is estimated that 3.7 million Americans will have advanced AMD. A staggering 7.7 million Americans have diabetic retinopathy. The estimate for 2030 is 11.3 million. It said 2.7 million Americans have glaucoma and it is estimated that 4.3 million will have glaucoma by 2030; 24.4 million people have cataracts with an estimate that by 2030 that number will be close to 38.7 million.

“Diabetes is another very common condition that we see in our patients.

We are constantly talking about high blood sugar levels and what they do,” Harris said. “It damages the small blood vessels of the eyes.

Ophthalmology plays a big role because it is the only part of the body where, when I look into your eye and see those fine blood vessels that are directly impacted by diabetes. I can see the changes happening in realtime and we can then prevent vision loss over time.”

In the same manner, if you’re experiencing hypertension, (high blood pressure) he can also see if those fine blood vessels have been damaged and can start a treatment program to prevent further damage, he added.

Harris said with certain lifestyle changes, along with routine eye exams and wearing prescription glasses, patients can keep their eyes healthy for years to come. If they are experiencing an eye condition, in many cases, they can minimize the severity.

“First, make eye examinations a routine. That is so important so my staff and I are able to help you. If you should have any of the eye conditions I spoke about, we can intervene and help. For example, recently I had a couple whose cataracts were so severe they were only able to see hand motion vision. They were only able to see a hand waving in front of them.

Within one surgery, their eyesight improved to the point where they could actually drive again,” he said. “I know I mentioned this before but this is one reason why keeping up on eye exams is so very important.

Another thing a patient can do to keep their eyes healthy, if you are out and the sun’s rays are intense and bothering your eyes, wear sunglasses.”

If you smoke, stop, he added. Smoking increases your chances to develop AMD as well as cataracts. If you do smoke and stop, you can slow the progression of these eye diseases.