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Healthy Vision Month: Annual exams are key to good eye health

Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, receives a refraction test during her routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The refraction test allowed the optometrist to dial in the exact prescription needed by Herrera. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, receives a refraction test during her routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The refraction test allowed the optometrist to dial in the exact prescription needed by Herrera. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Jennifer Freeman, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron ophthalmic technician, views an image of a patient’s eye captured during a retinal examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Captured images of each eye enable optometry personnel to inspect the optic nerve, blood vessels and retina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Jennifer Freeman, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron ophthalmic technician, views an image of a patient’s eye captured during a retinal examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Captured images of each eye enable optometry personnel to inspect the optic nerve, blood vessels and retina. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Tech. Sgt. Kareema Palmer, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry services noncommissioned officer in charge, screens Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during her routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Palmer performed a basic screening test and documented Herrera’s results prior to her seeing the optometrist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Tech. Sgt. Kareema Palmer, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry services noncommissioned officer in charge, screens Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during her routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. Palmer performed a basic screening test and documented Herrera’s results prior to her seeing the optometrist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Maj. Carli Murphy, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry flight commander, performs a slit lamp examination on Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during a routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The slit lamp allowed Murphy to examine the health of Herrera’s eyes by viewing the optic nerves, blood vessels, macula, retina, cornea, iris and eye lids. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Maj. Carli Murphy, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry flight commander, performs a slit lamp examination on Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during a routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The slit lamp allowed Murphy to examine the health of Herrera’s eyes by viewing the optic nerves, blood vessels, macula, retina, cornea, iris and eye lids. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Maj. Carli Murphy, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry flight commander, performs a test on Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during a routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The test allowed Murphy to refine Herrera’s contact lens prescription. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Maj. Carli Murphy, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron optometry flight commander, performs a test on Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, during a routine eye examination May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. The test allowed Murphy to refine Herrera’s contact lens prescription. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Jennifer Freeman, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron ophthalmic technician, watches Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, try on eye glass frames May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. When glasses are needed, picking out and ordering frames is one of the last steps during a routine eye examination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

Jennifer Freeman, 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron ophthalmic technician, watches Staff Sgt. Courtney Herrera, 436th Medical Support Squadron radiologic technologist, try on eye glass frames May 8, 2019, at the Optometry Clinic on Dover Air Force Base, Del. When glasses are needed, picking out and ordering frames is one of the last steps during a routine eye examination. (U.S. Air Force photo by Roland Balik)

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, De. -- In 2003, the National Eye Institute established May as Healthy Vision Month to promote proper eye care, encourage routine eye examinations and educate personnel on serious eye conditions that warrant immediate medical attention.

The NEI lists five major eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts and refractive error, which manifests as either nearsightedness or farsightedness.

The three-person Optometry Clinic is headed by Maj. Carli Murphy, optometry flight commander; Tech. Sgt. Kareema Palmer, optometry services noncommissioned officer in charge; and Jennifer Freeman, ophthalmic technician, who are all assigned to the 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron.

“We do comprehensive eye examinations that include updating glasses and contact lens prescriptions,” said Murphy. “We also perform many Air Force-specific examinations to make sure people are able to safely perform their job; these include initial flight physicals and the laser vision protection program.”

Those who wear contacts and glasses should have annual exams to keep the prescriptions current. Even if your vision is excellent, the American Optometric Association recommends an exam every three years. Many eye diseases do not have any obvious signs or symptoms, so early identification helps ensure the best outcomes.

“The eye doctor will evaluate your current vision, determine if you need glasses and do a comprehensive health exam to rule out any common eye diseases like glaucoma or cataracts,” said Murphy. “Your doctor can also help you with common problems like dry eye, allergies, styes and pink eye.”

The majority of patients seen by the clinic are active-duty members, but the clinic also provides services to dependents and retirees.

“The eyes are the windows to the soul,” said Palmer. “They give you an idea of what’s going on in your body; the most common things detected are high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”

“Our bodies are not designed to sit or look at the computer [monitor] all day, which a lot of us find ourselves doing,” said Murphy. “There are some things that we can do to ease the eye strain that comes from computer work. The easiest thing is to make sure you are in the right prescription. As you get closer to the 40 years old, reading glasses will be very beneficial in reducing that eye strain.”

Certain eye conditions warrant immediate attention. “Especially flashes of light, a sudden increase in floaters or any eye pain,” said Murphy.

For contact lens wearers, here are some important tips to minimize eye-related issues:
DO wash your hands before touching your contacts.
DO clean your lens case.
DO replace contact lenses according to your doctor’s directions.
DO use fresh contact lens solution every day.
DO ask your eye doctor if you can sleep in contact lenses. Sleeping in contact lenses greatly increases the risk of an eye infection, and only certain types of lenses are approved to be slept in. Sleeping in lenses is not typically recommended.
DON’T buy contacts without a prescription.
DON’T bathe or swim with your contacts in.
DON’T wear contacts if your eyes become itchy, red, sore or watery.
DO see your doctor regularly. Active-duty can make an appointment on base at (302) 730-4633 or through Tricare at https://www.tricareonline.com. Retirees and dependents can be seen every two years anywhere that accepts Tricare without a referral.

“Make sure you get an eye exam at least every two to three years,” said Murphy.

For more information about Healthy Vision Month, visit the NEI website at https://nei.nih.gov/hvm/. The NEI is one of 27 institutes and centers that fall under the National Institutes of Health.