No more squinting

Whether you wear glasses and put off going to get your script checked, or you’ve never worn glasses before in your life, it’s worth considering whether a trip to an optician or opthamologist might be beneficial.

What’s the difference?

Opticians or technicians usually work in shops selling glasses and contact lenses, while opthamologists are qualified doctors. Opticians are able to give you a prescription to correct your vision, and will refer you to an opthamologist should they suspect you have more than just refractive problems.

"We check people’s distance and up-close vision, and will correct it," says Rachanee Leicester, optician and manager of Boonteng Optical. "We can also check for cataracts, plus if we are unable to correct a patient’s vision to 20/20, we’ll refer them to an opthamologist."

Opticians may only see patients within a certain age bracket, depending on their own expertise. Wichai Manonom, an optician at Smile Optic, sees patients aged only 15 to 60. "These patients can be more complicated, so it’s better if they see a doctor."

Opticians may not be qualified

Rachanee notes that regulation in the optical industry is lax. "There are not many qualified opticians in Thailand – there is no law that people cannot practise without a licence." But this is improving, with the introduction two years ago of a short course approved by the Thai Optometric Association.

Therefore it makes sense to ensure that your optician is properly qualified. "Qualified opticians will test using more than just a computer," says Rachanee. "For instance, a retinalscope [a torch-like instrument] should be used to check the eyes." If there are too few machines in the testing area, and your test is very quick, consider going elsewhere for a second opinion.

Who should be checked and when?

It is crucial that children have their eyes tested, says Dr Sorot Wutthiphan, an opthamologist at Samitivej Hospital. Soon after birth, babies should be checked by their paediatrician for infections and structural defects, cataracts, and glaucoma. Eyes should be checked again by an opthamologist when aged six months, three or four, and then five or when the child starts school. "Opthamologists will have testing boards with pictures, so it’s easy for children to look at them and tell us what they can see," says Dr Sorot.

One condition that is vital to pick upearly is "lazy eye", or amblyopia, which is the loss or lack of development of central vision in one eye. It usually develops before age six. "If treatment is left until after age eight, it is usually ineffective," says Dr Sorot. ‘The younger the child is, the more effective treatment is."

If children have no problems when tested at age five, or they have myopia (shortsightedness), they should still be tested every year. If they have hyperopia (farsightedness), testing should be done every six months.

Adults, whether they have problems or not, should aim to be tested every two years, although those with hyperopia should consider an annual checkup. A normal consultation with an opthamologist can detect glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and retinal problems. "People who are diabetic, have other eye conditions, or have a close relative with glaucoma should be seen more regularly," says Dr Sorot.

When symptoms strike, get help

If you have the following symptoms, you should see an opthamologist:

· decreased vision;

· flashing;

· red eyes with pain or blurred vision;

· double vision; or

· floaters.

But even without symptoms, regular checkups are important. "There are many people in Thailand – usually poor people in rural areas – who are blind from treatable diseases, such as glaucoma," says Dr Sorot. Chronic glaucoma sufferers show no symptoms until the late stages of the disease – when it’s too late for medical intervention.

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