Why eye exams are important for Siouxlanders’ overall health

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SOUTH SIOUX CITY, Neb. (KCAU) – In Siouxland, around 1 in 4 people are over the age of 50. This same demographic has a higher chance of developing cataracts and other eye issues. Since the pandemic, doctors say more Siouxlanders are skipping their regular eye exams, and that could be cause for concern.

The eyes are our windows to the world, and Shella Rooney, a cataracts patient, had to see a doctor to find out her diagnosis.

“I didn’t know I had them, you know. I’ve been wearing glasses since 2000, but you know, I didn’t even know it was there until two years ago until the doctor told me,” said Rooney.

Dr. Spenser Morton, an ophthalmologist at Vance Thompson Vision, explains what exactly cataracts are.

“A cataract is a haziness or a cloudiness, sometimes even a yellowing of the lens that’s in your eye. You’re born with this lens. It’s clear it’s soft and it’s flexible,” said Morton. “That’s why you have excellent vision and are able to focus your vision just like a nice camera would. But over time, as the lens gets cloudy, hazy, and yellow, it loses its ability to flex and it also loses its ability to transmit light clearly and can start to scatter light and make the vision blurry.”

He said having your eyes checked, regularly, can help detect other issues too.

“There are diseases that actually can present themselves in the eye before they are even aware of it in the rest of their body. Things like diabetes and high blood pressure can even be detected in the eye before a patient knows that they have it,” Morton said.

Dr. Morton explains some of the early symptoms of cataracts.

“People’s symptoms vary. Common things that people notice first in the beginning stages of cataracts is glare around headlights, like if it’s dark and there’s a headlight coming towards them, they can notice glare or a starburst around a light. They might need more light to read. They might notice that even with new pairs of glasses, the vision isn’t as quite sharp as it once was and the world doesn’t seem as vibrant. So sometimes its hard to notice, right, because I often liken it to watching a child grow. A cataract grows so slowly that its hard sometimes to appreciate how much vision has been lost until its given back.”

Dr. Morton also says if cataracts is a problem, it’s one that can be easily corrected.

“It’s only really a two or three day process to have it evaluated, have the surgery done, and be finished and out the door,” said Morton.

Rooney expressed the pure joy she felt looking around her once the surgery was complete.

“When I left here, I had the right one done on a Tuesday and the left one done on a Wednesday, that was two weeks ago. And when I left the first day with just my right one, which obviously was worse, the bigger cataract, I walked outside and it was just like Disneyland out there. I mean it was so pretty.”

Cataracts come with age, but there are things that can be done early on.

“Other things people can control are their diet, a good healthy diet with fruits and vegetables with a lot of vitamins and antioxidants, avoiding smoking and protecting your eyes from sunlight when you can, can be helpful in slowing the progression of cataract,” Morton said.

Advice to keep those “windows to the world” clean and clear.

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