YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Eyes can be an overlooked part of health care, but the impact that the two quarter-ounce muscles can have goes far beyond just being able to have a look at the world around us. Our vision is what helps us interact with nearly everything in our lives and losing that ability, even if not fully, can be a detriment.
“You have to see good to work good. It doesn’t matter what your job is. If you’re getting to around [age] 45 and can’t read things up close any more, it sounds silly but a simple set of reading glasses can fix those things,” says Dr. Nicholas Lawrence of Eye Care Associates, based in Poland.
A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control found roughly seven million Americans had vision loss or blindness, with 1.6 million of those being under 40. Vision loss is defined as vision of 20/40 or worse with aids such as glasses, while blindness is 20/200 or worse.
The CDC estimates that 93 million adults are at high risk of serious vision loss. And a 2005 survey by the National Eye Health Education Program found more than 70% of respondents considered the loss of vision would have the greatest impact on their daily lives.
“If you ask almost anybody what sense they’d want to lose the least, I think almost everyone would want to keep their vision. They’d give up hearing or smell, but probably nothing is more disabling than being blind or having low vision,” says Dr. David Stebelton, owner of Poland Eye Center.
Among the most common vision problems seen by local optometrists and ophthalmologists is near-sighted-ness, as well as conditions such as glaucoma or astigmatism. Known medically as myopia, near-sightedness is “rampant,” Lawrence says, with much research in the field focusing on catching the problems sooner and beginning treatment as soon as possible.
“The new wave is stopping myopia from progressing to the point where there are other diseases that get a higher prevalence,” he continues. “Having a certain level of near-sightedness can increase the chances of retinal detachment by [five or six times]. We see some increased prevalence of glaucoma with progressive events.”
The age at which patients experience the onset of near-sightedness has been trending younger, notes Dr. Sergul Erzurum of Eye Care Associates and co-founder of the nonprofit Sight for All United, making the need for early intervention more important.
“We’re starting to understand what’s causing that; I’m sure our computers and devices are not helping. There’s a lot of discussion around how to control myopia, including optical drops,” she says.
Eye Care Associates took part in a national study looking at the progression of near-sightedness and macular atrophy, Erzurum says “Slowing down that progression is of interest to ophthalmologists and now parents are asking a lot about it, wondering what to do about their child in first grade needing glasses already.”
Beyond just optical conditions, eyes also provide insights into the body’s health. Diabetes can cause the loss of vision and, in some cases, the onset of diabetic conditions in eyes can signal larger health problems.
“We can see the optic nerve, the blood vessels and nerve tissue. We can diagnose diseases by looking at that,” Erzurum says.
And because patients so value their vision, they’re often seeing their optometrist regularly, even if they don’t often seek care from a primary care physician, Stebelton says.
“You can see a lot of things in the eyes that signal health problems in the rest of the body. A lot of times, I’m somebody’s only doctor. They don’t have a family doctor. But when they can’t see or can’t pass their driver’s vision test, they see me,” he says. “In some cases, I’m the one responsible for catching things that require more care like high blood pressure and asking questions about their general health.”
Glasses or contacts are often the first line of treatment for eye health, the doctors say. Providing those is one of the missions of Sight for All United, founded by Erzurum and Karen Segesto of PNC Wealth Management in 2015, along with ensuring patients can get affordable care.
The move beyond just connecting patients with doctors came when Youngstown Community School approached the organization about giving eye exams to nearly 100 students who had failed vision screenings but weren’t taken to follow-up care.
“We saw major visual deficits that could easily be corrected with glasses. Some kids needed surgery and a few needed medical care. But mostly a pair of glasses made the difference in their academic success,” Erzurum says.
At Central One Optical in Boardman, owner Lloyd Yazbek says the company is getting ready to install new equipment that will allow the company to make lenses and assemble glasses more efficiently. With what’s already in place, the equipment can make lenses within 1/100 of a diopter – the unit used to measure the distance a lens is focusing on.
“With the manufacturing techniques we use, that’s consistent from the optical center to the temple and to the nose,” he says. “There’s no difference [across the lens] because we remanufacture that lens every 0.5 millimeter. It’s negligible to the eye.”
The new equipment is “more automated and will take some of the guesswork out,” Yazbek says. “The true difference will be that we’ll speed up the process. What takes us probably 70 to 90 seconds to make a pair of glasses, we could do in 60 seconds. Instead of doing one lens at a time, we’d be doing two at a time.”
Central One has several applications it can put on lenses, including blue-light filters, anti-fogging and, in a product developed in-house, the two combined. Yazbek and his team, along with chemical engineers from Essilor, started developing what is now available as OCBlue Anti-Fog about three years ago and the product took off last year.
“We had one process and the other [blue-light filter and anti-fog]. The key was merging them into the same material,” he says. “We can do that particular application on any material. We always had a desire to have products that are unique to us. OCBlue is our recipe; no one in the world has it but Central One Optical in Youngstown, Ohio.”
Pictured at top: Dr. Nicholas Lawrence is an ophthalmologist with Eye Care Associates in Poland.