Salute to seniors: Your eye doctor is there for you!

Your optometrist has the knowledge and specialized equipment to diagnose and treat many of your eye health needs. Photo supplied.

By: Alberta Association of Optometrists

(Alberta) – With the heavy load hospital emergencies are experiencing, calling your optometrist is an important first step if you are experiencing an eye emergency. They will see you according to the urgency of the need and there is Alberta Health coverage towards these appointments. They are also there to help with your medically necessary appointments, such as monitoring eye disease or providing care for cataract patients.

Your optometrist, (Doctor of Optometry) has the proper knowledge and specialized equipment necessary to diagnose and treat many urgent care and medically necessary needs and can prescribe medications. If needed, they can also refer you to a specialist.

What is Urgent & Medically Necessary Care

There are many eye health care needs that your optometrist can provide, which have Alberta Health coverage. The list includes:

  • infection, injury or inflammation of the eye and eyelid;
  • foreign objects in the eyes;
  • dry eye;
  • sudden changes in vision;
  • monitoring for diabetes and glaucoma complications;
  • retinal detachment, defect and diseases; and
  • pre- and post-operative care for cataract patients.

Understanding the Importance of Treating Dry Eyes

Let’s have a look at a medically necessary condition that affects many Albertans, especially seniors. While our Alberta winters can contribute to dry eye, there are also many underlying reasons why you may be experiencing dry eye and if left untreated it can be harmful.

Dry eye is when your eyes are stinging, feeling gritty, itchy or simply uncomfortable. You may also experience fluctuating vision. In moderate to severe cases, you may experience blurred vision, light sensitivity or even periods of excess tearing, which is a natural reflex in an attempt to comfort the eye in response to the dryness.

Basically, dry eye occurs when eyes don’t produce enough tears or produce tears that don’t have the proper chemical composition. Everyone has a thin layer of tears that coat the front surface of their eyes, and it’s these tears that keep our eyes healthy and comfortable. Without adequate tears, dry eye can damage and even scar the sensitive corneal tissues of the eye, impairing vision. That makes early treatment important.

There are many reasons why you may be experiencing dry eye — aging process, hormonal changes, environmental conditions, problems with normal blinking, and certain medications, such as antihistamines, oral contraceptives or antidepressants.  Dry eye can also be a symptom of general health problems, such as arthritis, or can result from UV exposure and environmental irritants.

The key is a proper determination of what is causing your dry eye. During the eye exam, your optometrist will use specialized equipment and will ask questions about your general health, use of medications, and your home and work environments to determine what may be causing dry eye symptoms.

Dry eye is a chronic, but treatable disease, but your optometrist can offer treatment to manage the conditions and improve your comfort. Some of the treatments include:

  • artificial lubricating eye drops, ointments, and take-home therapies;
  • Intense pulsed light (IPL), radiofrequency (RF), Bleph-Ex, or instruments that utilize a combination of directed heat and pulsatile pressure to the eyelids to relieve obstructions of the meibomian glands and reduce inflammation;
  • small plugs that are inserted in the corner of the eyelids to slow drainage and loss of tears for cases of aqueous-deficient dry eye;
  • treating underlying systemic disease;
  • changing or supplementing your diet to increase the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and reduce systemic inflammation can be helpful; and/or
  • prescription medication to help your body produce more of its own tears.

To keep dry eye symptoms in check, you and your optometrist need to work together. Follow your optometrist’s instructions carefully. If you have increased dryness or redness that is not relieved by the prescribed treatment, let your optometrist know as soon as possible.

If you don’t have a regular optometrist, visit and enter your postal code.  A list of optometrists close to you will pop up. Treatment and quality care is just a phone call away!


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