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A Look At Eye Disease

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By Isela Ocegueda

Good eye health is likely taken for granted by most people, yet there are many eye diseases and problems that can compromise proper vision or even indicate more serious health issues.
Often particular symptoms can indicate particular eye problems.  For example, red, irritated eyes might be symptoms of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, or eye allergies, or perhaps some kind of eye trauma.  Itchy or puffy eyes usually signal some kind of eye allergy.  But other symptoms like blurred vision, eye pain, or spots, flashes and floaters usually indicate a more serious problem and require the attention of an eye doctor.
Drs. Ruben and Monica Ramirez, a husband and wife team that opened their own practice, Buena Vista Eye Care, in December 2010, treat and diagnose several aspects of eye care such as inflammation associated with ocular allergies, pink eye, dry eyes, cataracts, diabetic eye evaluations and removal of foreign objects from eyes.
And because Dr. Ruben E. Ramirez is the only Cornea, Anterior Segment and Refractive Surgery trained physician in the area of El Paso, many patients who suffer from corneal disease are referred to him by fellow ophthalmologists.  The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer and plays a key role in vision; in order to see well, the health of the cornea is critical.  Corneal disease represents a variety of conditions that primarily affect the cornea, including infections, degenerations, and hereditary disorders of the cornea.
Keratoconus, for example, a progressive thinning of the cornea, is the most common corneal disorder in the United States and is most common in teenagers and adults in their 20s.  Keratoconus occurs when the middle of the cornea thins and starts to protrude outwards to create a rounded cone shape.  This abnormal curvature causes distortion and blurriness in vision.  As the condition worsens, special contact lenses are often needed to reduce the distortion and provide enhanced vision.  Mr. Carlos Pacheco, a 34-year-old patient at Buena Vista Eye Care, was diagnosed with keratoconus and visited at least seven other eye doctors before arriving at Buena Vista, where Dr. Monica V. Ramirez had him fitted with some specialty contact lenses, large-diameter scleral lenses, that significantly improved his vision.  He confirms this, saying, “I can see now better than I’ve ever seen.”
Another kind of eye disease that tends to affect the younger population is amblyopia, also known as lazy eye.  According to Dr. Monica Ramirez, “Amblyopia is where [patients] have a delayed vision development, so that their brain hasn’t learned to see things correctly.  If you don’t stimulate the vision development when they’re little, even when they grow up and pass that critical period when their brain is learning things, even [with] the best pair of glasses, they won’t learn how to do it right, so it impacts their future.”   Amblyopia begins during infancy and early childhood, but if detected early on and treated right away, impaired vision can be avoided.  Symptoms of amblyopia are when the eyes start crossing or drifting, and if left untreated, it can cause severe visual disability in the affected eye, including blindness.  Dr. Ramirez says that usually a pair of glasses early on, in an effort to teach the brain how to see correctly, is sufficient to treat this problem.
Of course, there are also eye diseases that are more prevalent in older adults.  Cataracts, glaucoma, and diabetic retinopathy are perhaps the most common. 
A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens.  Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over age 40, and according to Prevent Blindness America, the nation’s leading volunteer eye health and safety organization, as the U.S population ages, more than 30 million Americans are expected to have cataracts by the year 2020. 
Glaucoma is the buildup of internal eye pressure, which can damage the eye’s optic nerve that sends visual information to the brain.  If untreated, glaucoma can cause peripheral vision loss and even blindness.  Studies have shown that glaucoma is more likely to affect Hispanics and African-Americans than Whites.  Dr. Ruben Ramirez emphasized the fact that for some reason, Latina females’ “prognosis to developing more severe glaucoma is greater than the regular population.”
Diabetic retinopathy is the number one cause of blindness in the United States.  Dr. Ruben Ramirez says that “it’s a serious issue especially here in El Paso where there is a large diabetic population.”  Diabetic retinopathy or vision problems due to diabetes are more likely to occur in those who have been diabetic for longer than ten years and are over the age of 60, or in those who have not properly managed their diabetes.  If the disease reaches the high-risk level, a specific kind of laser therapy might be employed to decrease the eye’s oxygen demand and discourage the growth of abnormal blood vessels in the eye.
In many cases with these eye diseases, symptoms may not be obviously present until the disease is well advanced, which is why Drs. Ramirez reinforce the importance of annual, dilated eye exams, “even if you think things are perfect, just to be certain that the health of the eye is what it should be.”  They stressed that the exams be dilated exams, where the pupil is dilated so that the nerve and retina can be properly evaluated. 
Beyond the annual dilated eye exams, Drs. Ramirez stressed the important of a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a healthy diet to promote good eye health.
To learn more about Buena Vista Eye Care, visit their website at http://www.buenavistaelpaso.com/home

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