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Protecting your vision can benefit your quality of life.

Since 2003, May has been designated as Healthy Vision Month. This reminds us of the importance of vision and the need to protect and preserve this precious gift.

We live in a highly visual environment. Our ability to perform daily activities is heavily dependent on our sense of sight. It is estimated that 80 percent of what we learn is acquired through vision, and during our waking hours we rely heavily on vision to perform daily tasks. Our wakeful experiences provide a context for our dreams. In summary, a compromise to vision can significantly impact a person's quality of life.

We should not take our sight for granted. Vision function is highly vulnerable. Vision impairment is among the leading morbidities in the United States. Millions of Americans have undetected or avoidable vision problems, eye diseases and eye conditions.

So, who is at risk? Everyone is susceptible to vision impairment or blindness. Rates of occurrence vary with respect to age, gender, race and environmental factors. Importantly, many sight-threatening conditions are asymptomatic. The good news is that most vision impairments are preventable, or can be corrected at low cost and minimal discomfort.

The most common vision impairment in developed countries is refractive error. Uncorrected refractive error produces a preventable reduction in functional vision. By the time we reach middle age, nearly 100 percent of us have clinically significant refractive error that requires some amount of refractive correction, such as glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery. Although the impact of uncorrected refractive errors on academic achievement in children has not yet been indisputably established, it is likely that the "education gap" can at least in part be related to under-treatment of clinically significant refractive errors.

With age, the incidence and prevalence of non-refractive vision conditions increases dramatically. Some of these conditions lead to permanent vision loss or blindness. Glaucoma, a relatively common condition, rarely presents with symptoms. African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, people older than 40 years of age and those with a positive family history for glaucoma are at greater risk for this disease. Similarly, people with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes are at risk for diabetic retinopathy, a condition characterized by abnormal changes in retinal blood supply. People older than 50, white smokers and those with a positive family history have a greater risk for age-related macular degeneration.

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The National Eye Institute encourages all Americans to make healthy vision last a lifetime through early diagnosis, timely treatment and appropriate follow-up care. The best way to detect and manage eye diseases and vision conditions is through routine comprehensive dilated eye examinations. The procedures are painless, and the peace of mind in knowing that all is well, or identifying a potential vision threat is well worth the visit.

Perspectives of the president of APHA

Mel Shipp, OD, DrPH, MPH president@apha.org

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Title Annotation:Vital Signs
Author:Shipp, Mel
Publication:The Nation's Health
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:469
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