Regular eye exams keep life in focus

Capt. Loralie Hodges recommends regular eye exams as part of routine health care. Early detection is key for optometrists to treat a variety of sight disorders. Captain Hodges is an optometrist with the 10th Medical Group at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Capt. Loralie Hodges recommends regular eye exams as part of routine health care. Early detection is key for optometrists to treat a variety of sight disorders. Captain Hodges is an optometrist with the 10th Medical Group at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Capt. Loralie Hodges recommends regular eye exams as part of routine health care. Early detection is key for optometrists to treat a variety of sight disorders. Captain Hodges is an optometrist with the 10th Medical Group at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

Capt. Loralie Hodges recommends regular eye exams as part of routine health care. Early detection is key for optometrists to treat a variety of sight disorders. Captain Hodges is an optometrist with the 10th Medical Group at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ann Patton)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- Things looking a little fuzzy or foggy? Can't read street names? Can't read the crawlers at the bottom of the TV screen? Having trouble focusing on close-up tasks? 

It may be time for an eye exam. 

"I recommend eye exams every one or two years," said Capt. Loralie Hodges, an optometrist with the 10th Medical Group. 

Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are at an age when many may be affected by vision problems, according to the American Optometric Association. 

"As people age, more things affect your eyes," Captain Hodges said. 

One age-related vision disorder is cataracts, cloudy or opaque areas in the clear lens of the eye that result in contrast sensitivity, a dulling of colors and increased sensitivity to glare. Another age-related disorder is macular degeneration, which causes a loss of central vision. Diabetic retinopathy causes progressive damage to the retina, the light-sensitive lining at the back of the eye. If not treated, the condition can lead to blindness. 

Glaucoma, a group of diseases characterized by damage to the optic nerve, can result in peripheral vision loss. Captain Hodges said cataracts and most other diseases of the eye are slow to progress, and patients may not be aware of deteriorating vision. Early detection is key to proper treatment. 

"We would rather catch something early," she said. 

The AOA recommends children's vision first be tested at 12 months, then at three years and every year thereafter while they're in school. 

"School screenings are great, but they can be missing something," Captain Hodges stressed. "They need screening more closely." 

Close-up school work like reading and writing require good vision. 

"Kids focus strongly, putting a strain on their eyes," she said. 

Poor vision can also slow youngsters down physically, even to the point of becoming clumsy, and even a slight vision impairment can affect sports performance. In some instances, children who have trouble reading may be considered slow learners when the actual problem is poor vision. 

Between eye exams, parents should be watchful of a variety of signs of impaired vision, including squinting, red eyes, watering, rubbing the eyes or if one eye turns in or out. The good news is that eye care professionals are trained to recognize and treat disorders. 

"What's great about my job is making patients see just how well they can see," she said.